Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

When the Going Gets Tough the Beautiful Get Going: Aesthetic Appeal Facilitates Task Performance

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

When the Going Gets Tough the Beautiful Get Going: Aesthetic Appeal Facilitates Task Performance

Article excerpt

Published online: 17 January 2015

© The Author(s) 2014. This article is published with open access at

Abstract The current studies examined the effect of aesthetic appeal on performance. According to one hypothesis, appeal would lead to overall decrements or enhancements in performance [e.g. Sonderegger & Sauer, (Applied Ergonomics, 41, 403-410, 2010)]. Alternatively, appeal might influence performance only in problem situations, such as when the task is difficult [e.g. Norman, (2004)]. The predictions of these hypotheses were examined in the context of an icon search-and-localisation task. Icons were used because they are well-defined stimuli and pervasive to modern everyday life. When search was made difficult using visually complex stimuli (Experiment 1), or abstract and unfamiliar stimuli (Experiment 2), icons that were appealing were found more quickly than their unappealing counterparts. These findings show that in a low-level visual processing task, with demand characteristics related to appeal eliminated, appeal can influence performance, especially under duress.

Keywords Attention . Human factors . Visual perception


Can visual aesthetic appeal influence task performance? This is an intriguing question with potentially far-reaching practical and theoretical implications (e.g. Norman, 2004). The interest in the relationship between aesthetic appeal and performance is not new. Early studies on the relationship between aesthetic appeal and task performance revealed strong correlations between judgments of aesthetic appeal and judgments of how easy-to-use a product appears to be (e.g. Jordan, 1998; Kurosu & Kashimura, 1995; Lingaard & Dudek, 2003; Tractinsky, Katz, & Ikar, 2000; Tractinsky, 2004; Wiedenbeck, 1999; see Hassenzahl & Monk, 2010, for review). Experimental study of whether aesthetic appeal might influence actual task performance has only recently started to make headway (e.g. Thüring & Mahlke, 2007; Moshagen, Musch, & Göritz, 2009; Sauer & Sonderegger, 2009; 2011; Sonderegger & Sauer, 2010).

The handful of studies examining whether visual aesthetic appeal might influence performance has yielded mixed support for this notion. Some studies have found no effect of stimulus appeal on task performance (e.g. Hartmann, Sutcliffe, & De Angeli, 2007; Thüring & Mahlke, 2007; Tractinsky et al., 2000), while others have found conflicting results (e.g. Moshagen et al., 2009; Sonderegger & Sauer, 2009). Positive evidence suggests that appealing stimuli can increase performance efficiency (e.g. Moshagen et al., 2009; Sonderegger & Sauer, 2010) and perseverance with the task (e.g. Nakarada-Kordich & Lobb, 2005). In contrast, decreased performance efficiency for appealing stimuli has sometimes been reported (e.g. Ben-Bassat et al., 2006; Meyer, Shinar, & Leiser, 1997; Tufte, 1983; Sauer & Sonderegger, 2009; 2011).

Conflicting findings may be due to the fact that aesthetic appeal1 is a multi-dimensional construct influenced by a number of factors, including colour (e.g. Palmer, Schloss, & Sammartino, 2013), visual complexity (e.g., Eisenman, 1967; Jacobsen & Höfel, 2002; Martindale, Moore, & West, 1988), symmetry and balance (e.g. Jacobsen & Höfel, 2002; Palmer & Griscom, 2013), meaningfulness (e.g. Russell, 2003; Leder, Carbon, & Ripsas, 2006), familiarity (e.g. Bornstein, 1989; Lindgaard, Fernandes, Dudek, & Brown, 2006; Reber, Schwarz, & Winkielman, 2004;Zajonc,1968, 1998, 2000), and concreteness (e.g. Kawabata & Zeki, 2004; Vartanian & Goel, 2004), to name a few. Such factors may be confounding variables underlying the conflicting evidence regarding whether aesthetic appeal influences performance. For instance, sometimes manipulations of appeal have affected the visual complexity of the artifact under investigation (e.g. computerized mobile phone: Sonderegger & Sauer, 2010; computerised phone-book: Ben-Bassat et al. …

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