Visual complexity and affect: ratings reflect more than meets the eye

Madan, Christopher R., Bayer, Janine, Gamer, Matthias, Lonsdorf, Tina B. and Sommer, Tobias (2018) Visual complexity and affect: ratings reflect more than meets the eye. Frontiers in Psychology, 8 . 2368/1-2368/19. ISSN 1664-1078

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Pictorial stimuli can vary on many dimensions, several aspects of which are captured by the term ‘visual complexity.’ Visual complexity can be described as, “a picture of a few objects, colors, or structures would be less complex than a very colorful picture of many objects that is composed of several components.” Prior studies have reported a relationship between affect and visual complexity, where complex pictures are rated as more pleasant and arousing. However, a relationship in the opposite direction, an effect of affect on visual complexity, is also possible; emotional arousal and valence are known to influence selective attention and visual processing. In a series of experiments, we found that ratings of visual complexity correlated with affective ratings, and independently also with computational measures of visual complexity. These computational measures did not correlate with affect, suggesting that complexity ratings are separately related to distinct factors. We investigated the relationship between affect and ratings of visual complexity, finding an ‘arousal-complexity bias’ to be a robust phenomenon. Moreover, we found this bias could be attenuated when explicitly indicated but did not correlate with inter-individual difference measures of affective processing, and was largely unrelated to cognitive and eyetracking measures. Taken together, the arousal-complexity bias seems to be caused by a relationship between arousal and visual processing as it has been described for the greater vividness of arousing pictures. The described arousal-complexity bias is also of relevance from an experimental perspective because visual complexity is often considered a variable to control for when using pictorial stimuli.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Visual complexity; Affect; Arousal; Valence; Eyetracking; Emotion
Schools/Departments: University of Nottingham, UK > Faculty of Science > School of Psychology
Identification Number:
Depositing User: Madan, Christopher
Date Deposited: 22 Jan 2018 08:41
Last Modified: 04 May 2020 19:27

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