Even as Kids We Show a Mysterious, Possibly Innate Appreciation of Nature of Shapes

Like listening to music, there is something calm about being outdoors, and perhaps it should be about how we perceive and see natural patterns.

When the shape of something is repeated at ever smaller scales, such as tree branching, shell spinning, or river fingers, studies have shown that it can produce a calm state in the adult brain, reducing total weight and provides a relaxed feeling.

This has been termed ‘fractal fluency’, the ability to recognize and process steadily declining patterns.

A new study of young children shows that our response to natural fractal perspectives does not have to be learned through openness, as some have accepted. The results show that it is already present in us at the age of three. It could even be at the heart of human experience.

“Unlike early people who lived out on savannahs, modern people spend most of their early life within these. [hu]man-made structures, ”explains University of Oregon psychologist Kelly Robles.

“So because children aren’t particularly exposed to the complex, low to moderately complex false patterns, this choice must come from something earlier in development or it may be textured.”

DrainageMalamudRiver network. (Bruce D. Malamud / Kings College London)

The term ‘fractal’ was coined in 1975, but long before that, artists such as Jackson Pollock, MC Escher, and Katsushika Hokusai used these natural patterns to various influences in their art.

In fact, fractal analysis can help to distinguish between false Pollock pieces and real ones. Even the way in which the human eye perceives a picture or the way in which our brain processes the following information can be interpreted as a false pattern.

figear7big 1l775zjPollock images versus tree breaking. (Richard Taylor / University of Oregon)

Studies in the years since have shown that adults prefer certain types of false patterns with certain levels of complexity commonly found in nature.

Statistical fractals, for example, show similar patterns across blades and are not symmetrical (think: coasts, clouds and mountains). When observing these, people prefer a medium level of complexity, reminiscent of savannah scenes.

But when you look at detailed fractals, which show the same pattern at all scales (think: avalanche), more complexity is better.

This indicates that natural patterns may be preferred among adults, and this seems to have a calming effect on us. But when in our lives did we come along with these shapes?

It may be that we have learned to do so over time, through exposure to more than natural things. This is called the Goldilocks effect, and suggests that, over time, we will gradually increase our knowledge of ever-more complex shapes until eventually , we prefer patterns that reflect mid-level complexity – not too much for our brains and not too small.

But there is another explanation. If these movements are also found in children, it is then suggested that there is an early biological or evolutionary mechanism that will shape our visual system in favor of natural structures.

Low pressure system over IcelandLow pressure system off the coast of Ireland. (Jacques Descloitres / NASA)

The first study to explore this hypothesis has now found evidence supporting a theory of universal fractal fluency.

The study data were provided by 82 adults between the ages of 18 and 33, and 96 children between the ages of 3 and 10. All participants they looked at deceptive patterns on a tablet screen.

Each round, the participants either went against a random pair of round patterns, showing a spectrum of complexity (which looked like a branch or looked like snow), or a pair of random statistical patterns, showing a number of complexities (which looked cloud-like).

Once volunteers selected their favorite image for the 10 rounds, they then performed a visual bias test and a questionnaire.

Although adults and children showed preferences for specific patterns, there was no overall difference between the groups as far as clear movement. Furthermore, no relationship was found between the way participants processed these images, their age or preference.

When confronted with patterns of statistical repetition, adults and children alike prefer moderate to low complexity. But when confronted with real repetitive patterns, they usually preferred the more complex ones.

“We found that people prefer the most common natural pattern, the statistically misleading patterns of moderately low complexity, and that this choice does not come from or change over decades of exposure to the nature or individual differences in how we process images, “says Robles.

“Our preferences for fractals are set before our third birthday, suggesting that our visual system is tuned to process those patterns that are very common in nature.”

If fractal esthetics were just a mirror of revealing the most common patterns in nature, differences in age should appear. In this situation, as children age, they should begin to choose more complex forms.

But that does not seem to be the case, at least from an initial study. The current study is small in size and needs to be confirmed by further study, but the fact that adults and children seem to prefer the same natural patterns suggests that fractal fluency is established early. in their lives and does not reflect the environment of a person’s childhood.

It could also mean that children get many of the same benefits from looking at fractal shapes as adults.

“Nature provides these benefits for free, but we are increasingly surrounded by fractals with urban landscapes,” says Robles.

“This study shows that the introduction of fractals in urban environments can begin to provide benefits from a very early age. “

The study was published in Communication in the Humanities and Social Sciences.