With more than 500.000 people following the Tumblr-blog of Things Organized Neatly© (http://thingsorganizedneatly.tumblr.com/), images of neatly organized compositions seem to be quite popular online. This raises the question why this type of images is so popular and attracts so many people.
To address this issue, we investigated which aspects of the images and their observers influenced aesthetic preferences for images of neatly organized compositions. We hypothesized the theoretical principle of balancing order and complexity to play an important role in determining aesthetic preferences, especially for this type of stimuli. Therefore, the selection of specific stimulus and person properties to study focused on factors relating to (the balance between) order and complexity. In a large-scale online study, 415 participants chose for each of 100 image pairs which one of two simultaneously presented images they preferred and completed some personality questionnaires (e.g., Personal Need for Structure). In a second (optional) part of the study, 84 participants also rated how ordered, complex, soothing, and fascinating they perceived each of 184 individual images to be. Additionally, some objective statistical measures were calculated on the images (i.e., PHOG-derived measures of self-similarity, complexity, and anisotropy, Fourier slope, and fractal dimension). Subsequently, we conducted correlation and regression analyses to investigate how and which stimulus and person properties related to
(a) aesthetic preferences for neatly organized compositions;
(b) judgments of order and complexity; and
(c) judgments of soothingness and fascination.
Aesthetic preferences for images of neatly organized compositions relate positively with both the perceived soothingness and perceived fascination of the images. Images high in order and high in complexity were perceived as more fascinating. Images high in order and low in complexity were perceived as more soothing. As subjective order and complexity seem to have rather independent effects on positive aesthetic appreciation, the balance between order and complexity seems to be a combination of the independent effects of order and complexity rather than an interaction. Some objective indicators of complexity (i.e., HOG-based complexity, fractal dimension, and to a certain extent Fourier slope) related strongly positively with subjective complexity. Individuals differ in their preferences for more ordered, complex, soothing, and fascinating images, and these differences can partly be explained by differences in personality (i.e., symmetry, ordering, and arranging tendencies, personal need for structure, openness to experience) and age. In general, stimulus and person interact in determining aesthetic appreciation, and further studies should focus on empirically investigating and theoretically explaining these interactions.