Comparing angular and curved shapes in terms of implicit associations and approach/avoidance responses

Letizia Palumbo*, Nicole Ruta, Marco Bertamini

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Citations (Scopus)


Most people prefer smoothly curved shapes over more angular shapes. We investigated the origin of this effect using abstract shapes and implicit measures of semantic association and preference. In Experiment 1 we used a multidimensional Implicit Association Test (IAT) to verify the strength of the association of curved and angular polygons with danger (safe vs. danger words), valence (positive vs. negative words) and gender (female vs. male names). Results showed that curved polygons were associated with safe and positive concepts and with female names, whereas angular polygons were associated with danger and negative concepts and with male names. Experiment 2 used a different implicit measure, which avoided any need to categorise the stimuli. Using a revised version of the Stimulus Response Compatibility (SRC) task we tested with a stick figure (i.e., the manikin) approach and avoidance reactions to curved and angular polygons. We found that RTs for approaching vs. avoiding angular polygons did not differ, even in the condition where the angles were more pronounced. By contrast participants were faster and more accurate when moving the manikin towards curved shapes. Experiment 2 suggests that preference for curvature cannot derive entirely from an association of angles with threat. We conclude that smoothly curved contours make these abstract shapes more pleasant. Further studies are needed to clarify the nature of such a preference.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPLoS ONE
Publication statusPublished - 13 Oct 2015


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