The beauty in symmetry

symmetry in butterflies
Symmetry seen in a butterfly
Image source: www.vicvapor.com
Have you ever wondered why you are sometimes attracted to some piece of art, and not to the other? Or why you find something visually appealing while another almost repulsive. Well next time, you do find yourself in such a situation, just take a moment, and see if what you are staring at, is symmetric or not. If you like it, chances are that the piece of work is very symmetric. Studies show that, when given an option to choose between symmetric and asymmetric pictures, people are more likely to choose symmetry over asymmetry. And this phenomenon is gender independent, so whether you are man or a woman, you will pick symmetry where possible

If we look around, we find that symmetry seems to be a very important part of nature almost like a rule. Every organism is an example of symmetry, right from viruses that show radial symmetry, to fruits and flowers that have perfectly aligned parts, there is symmetry everywhere. Biologists believe that symmetry is nature’s way of displaying fitness and superior genes. 

We are not immune to this rule 

Interestingly, we also hold similar scales to judge the attractiveness and beauty of people. Like art, people are more likely to select a face that is symmetrical, as beautiful, over an asymmetric face. In fact studies show that people with symmetric face are more social, extroverted, agreeable, and positive.

This subconscious obsession of ours is deeply embedded into our systems; our fascination for symmetric faces can be traced back to a study done on infants. It is understandable that infants would choose familiar faces over unfamiliar ones. But when asked to choose between unfamiliar faces, infants tend to choose symmetry over asymmetry, meaning facial features that are more symmetrical than those that aren’t.

While symmetry may be our cue to finding healthy genes or person with good social skills, the question to be asked would be why is that we do not asymmetric faces appealing. 

To answer this, researchers at the Ohio State University conducted a study and found that individuals who had more asymmetric features were more likely to be aggressive, and impulsive, in comparison to those that were symmetric. Also, asymmetry is a good indicator for environmental and developmental stress. e.g. Fluctuating asymmetry is an indicator of alcohol abuse, or other substance abuse by the mother during pregnancy.

This tendency of ours to choose symmetry over asymmetry is best exploited by the film industry. 

But all this talk about symmetry and asymmetry, the interesting part about it is that,  experimentally, it is very difficult to break symmetry.  Deviating symmetry is nearly impossible in a laboratory setting, in fact breaking symmetry in fruit flies was impossible. 

We all are invariably attracted to very proper, neat and calculatedly symmetric features. However, predictable and horribly prone to our natural instinct it may sound, we are in the end of it all, attracted to symmetry and artists, photographers often exploit this very weakness that is deeply embedded into our genome.

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