Humans have a preference for curved over angular shapes, an effect noted by artists as well as scientists. It may be that people like smooth curves or that people dislike angles, or both. We investigated this phenomenon in four experiments. Using abstract shapes differing in type of contour (angular vs. curved) and complexity, Experiment 1 confirmed a preference for curvature not linked to perceived complexity. Experiment 2 tested whether the effect was modulated by distance. If angular shapes are associated with a threat, the effect may be stronger when they are presented within peripersonal space. This hypothesis was not supported. Experiment 3 tested whether preference for curves occurs when curved lines are compared to straight lines without angles. Sets of coloured lines (angular vs. curved vs. straight) were seen through a circular or square aperture. Curved lines were liked more than either angular or straight lines. Therefore, angles are not necessary to generate a preference for curved shapes. Finally, Experiment 4 used an implicit measure of preference, the manikin task, to measure approach/avoidance behaviour. Results did not confirm a pattern of avoidance for angularity but only a pattern of approach for curvature. Our experiments suggest that the threat association hypothesis cannot fully explain the curvature effect and that curved shapes are, per se, visually pleasant.
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