The Experimental Psychology of Beauty

By C. W. Valentine | Go to book overview

Chapter V BALANCE AND SYMMETRY

The "golden section" rectangle

In one of the earliest experiments in aesthetics, Fechner, who may be called the founder of this branch of experimental psychology, tried to find what proportions of length to breadth made the most pleasing rectangle. He offered ten rectangles for his subjects to choose from. These varied from a square to an oblong with sides in the proportion of five to two. Over 300 men and women were tested. The most popular, both with men and women, was the rectangle here given. It scored about 35% of the preferences. Now the peculiarity of this rectangle is that its sides correspond to the "golden section" of a line. This we get by dividing a line so that the whole line bears to the greater part the same ratio that the greater part bears to the lesser part. The pleasingness of the "golden section" has been explained in accordance with the principle of facilitation of attention, which we explained in the last chapter. Thus it was held that the mental transition from attention to the whole line to attention to the greater part prepares us for the further transition to the smaller part, because the step is proportionately the same. As to rectangles, it is hard to see why the two sides should be subconsciously added together to form a whole.

Furthermore, more recent experiments have discredited the supposed universal preference for the golden section of a line.

Before considering the division of lines, however, we may point out that Fechner's results with the rectangles show very wide ranges of opinion and even wider ranges were obtained in similar experiments by the French psychologist, Lalo.1 Lalo found that 11% of his subjects put first the exact square. Nevertheless, even so, 30% of his subjects chose the rectangle with approximately the golden

____________________
1
C. Lalo, L'Ésthetique Experimentale Contemporaine, Paris, 1908.

-93-

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