TORONTO – Cognitive neuroscientist Oshin Vartanian isn’t surprised that the consumer technology industry is becoming increasingly obsessed with curves.
Late last year, Samsung quietly launched the first-ever smartphone with a curved screen, the Galaxy Round, although the phone was only released in South Korea. LG followed suit this year with the wide release of its G Flex phone.
The two companies are also starting to promote curved TVs, which can now be found in big box stores.
The sales pitch on curved TVs is that the rounded screen creates a more immersive viewing experience while offering the latest and greatest in picture quality, including the ability to play ultra high-definition 4K content.
Vartanian, who studies aesthetics and is a self-proclaimed lover of curvilinear design, can understand why tech companies are experimenting with curves.
“The story about curvature is really a story about emotion,” says Vartanian, who has used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) testing to explore how our brains react to seeing curves in design.
“(Curvature) affects the way you feel, it creates a feeling-driven response.”
Vartanian says experiments from the early 20th century through to recent years have consistently shown that people prefer so-called curvilinear over rectilinear design, even if they can’t explain why.
He adds that modern fMRI testing has revealed activity in the anterior cingulate cortex part of the brain when people look at curved objects, which suggests an emotional response, and the results are similar to research on curves dating back to the 1920s.
“They found at the time that people reliably tended to prefer the (images) that were curved over the ones that were rectilinear and over time this research has been replicated … so there’s been a very reliable preference for curvature over rectilinear design going back almost 100 years,” he says.
There may also be an evolutionary link to a preference for curves, he adds.
“When people look at sharp everyday objects the area of the brain that lights up is what’s called the amygdala, which responds to threats. For example, if you were suffering from arachnophobia and I showed you a spider there’d be a very reliable signal in the same area,” he says.
“So there’s probably something about our evolutionary past that has stayed with us and denotes danger associated with sharp objects.”
Of course, the electronics companies insist curved screen technology isn’t just a gimmick dreamt up to encourage homeowners to upgrade their living room TVs.
“We’ll see how consumers react but we certainly feel curved is the next evolution in television,” says Jeff Ingram, trainer manager with Samsung Canada.
“People think it’s going to be a big curve on it, but the curve in many ways is very subtle. For many people they may not notice it right away unless you’re up close to the TV.
“You’re not supposed to necessarily see the curve, it’s supposed to appear natural and immersive.”