Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Guest Post: How Does The Brain Decide An Outfit Looks Good?

So, I'm officially on holiday, but I do have some great guest posts to share with all of you. First up, the very talented Allison, who's written a little something about the psychology behind fashion.

Whoever said “it's all been done before” was more correct than he or she imagined, at least when it comes to how the brain perceives color, shape and fit when looking at clothing. Some scientific evidence suggests that the brain may make decisions related to visual stimuli based on past visual perceptions that influence the unconscious neural activity preceding a conscious decision. While it may sound like you need a psychology degree to understand why people pick out the clothes they do, the basic idea is simple: people’s sense of fashion reflects their past visual experiences. Thus, difficulty deciding between a blue scarf with orange stripes and a blue scarf with yellow stripes might spring from a lack of previous experience with orange or yellow stripes.

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When you look at an outfit, your brain spends some time gathering information before concluding “trés chic” or “fashion fail.” Light and color play a major part in this process. Light enters your eye and is interpreted as color by your visual sense, but without some previous point of reference, your brain has no basis for interpreting the perception of color. Jonah Lehrer of the Harvard Decision and Science Laboratory says that our brains can only take in a few bits of information at a time before beginning to overload. Thus, he thinks we make better decisions by involving emotion in the process. The emotional portion of the brain is better equipped to handle multiple pieces of information for better and faster processing. Additionally, according to a study from the Universities of Liege, Geneva, and Surrey, the perception of light as color influences the way our brains process emotional stimuli.

These studies indicate that decision-making is not a purely rational act, but an emotional process based on past experience in a brain generally unable to process more than a few stimuli at a time. This theory is borne out by another study from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, along with the Charite University Hospital and the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin. Their scientists used a brain scanner programmed to recognize brain activity in the moments before a decision was to be made. Activity patterns in the frontopolar cortex of the brain indicate choices are being made subconsciously before the subjects made their decisions. The study found that brain activity permits prediction of a decision seven seconds before the subject makes that decision consciously.

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Along similar lines, other research has suggested that our brains do their best decision-making unconsciously, gathering information below the level of awareness. Once our brain crosses a certain threshold of confidence, the decision becomes conscious.

When it comes to choosing clothes or assessing the aesthetic quality of an outfit, chances are these unconscious aspects of our decision-making process are heavily involved. Your visual perception of those striped scarves, by themselves and in combination with whatever else you want to wear, has gone through your brain and been subconsciously vetted well before you consciously decide “yea” or “nay.” Your own past visual experience and the evolutionary tendencies of visual perception have both already been brought to bear in an emotionally driven assessment more or less inaccessible to your conscious awareness. From this subconscious process bubble up deliberate evaluations of one scarf as fabulous and the other merely so-so.

“There’s no accounting for taste” takes on a whole new meaning in light of the fact that the psychological basis of taste in fashion lies in these hidden subconscious processes. Thus the next time you find yourself in front of the mirror saying “hmmm…”, consider that your decision has probably already been made.

Thanks for the guest post! Hope you all enjoyed it.
xx

26 comments:

mom & son said...

Nice post and I agree with this..this is so true!
Thanks for sharing, dear!

Fuyume said...

how interesting. i guess its true. i'd never really given it much thought before.

Cafe Fashionista said...

As a psychology grad, and shopaholic, I have to say that I adored this guest post! :)

SabinePsynopsis said...

Great guest post! I always had a hunch that the subconscious plays a major role in our fashion decisions.... Which also must be the reason that something we find 'nay' today can be 'yay' next year (and the other way round).

Have a great holiday, Sherin!

Kristin said...

How very interesting! Who knew?

Michaela said...

Interesting post!
http://haveyoueverfalleninlove.blogspot.com/

janettaylor said...

WOW! Nice guest post!

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Hannah said...

Wow, this is really interesting. I'm a science graduate so finding the nerdy stuff totally fascinating. FYI the first 'study' link doesn't work. I was curious to read it because I did my masters degree at Surrey university. Light and colour have such a profound effect on our senses that it's no wonder our brains function in this way


Bow Dream Nation xx

Damsels said...

i think this article explains a lot . but it has also probably inspired me to try new things that i have no previous experience with.

Dressing Up For Me said...

True! You choose your outfit based on what you´ve seen maybe in another place or time. This post is so informative. :)

Sophie - Country girl said...

Really interesting article, love this guest post!
http://cgdn.blogspot.com/

Style Eyes said...

great post. It really got me thinking

Cindy Whitehead said...

interesting!!

cryskay said...

i love this post! it really made me think. btw the lace blue top in the photo is gorgeous! xx

annie said...

I thought this was very interesting!

Great job!

la petite fashionista said...

this is super interesting! i've always wondered what goes on subconciously when I'm making fashion choices!

Imogen said...

This is very interesting. I had wanted to know more about this before.

michelle_ said...

this is a real interesting topic to study about :)
i enjoyed reading this !

glisters and blisters

Jennifer Fabulous said...

What an awesome guest post! I never really thought about the way my brain processed my own style, but it sounds really fascinating and complicated! :)

Cee said...

What an interesting post! I had no idea how much psychology was involved in picking out clothes... Although, I hardly wear any colours, and I can't help but wonder what that means about my past visual experiences. Maybe you can address people who, consciously or subconciously, choose not wear colours in part two? :)
xox,
Cee

Savvy Gal said...

i just know it when the outfit is great. There is really no reason.

Clare said...

This is an awesome and really unique post. I think it is just intuitive i can't put my finger on why I think an outfit looks good.

ANN said...

This was an interesting article, I already knew that color influences 95% of my purchases so I wasn't surprised to read about that! haha

tim said...

Hahahaha! Thanks for this info... Im so loving this post!

Chelsea Lane said...

SO INTERESTING! I am going to be analyzing my past next time I get dressed. haha :)

xoxo

M said...

Does Allison have a blog?

Great post - for people who are interesting in going further - you might want to look up 'neuroaesthetics' it is a newish sub discipline that looks mostly at the neural bases behind things like music and art - fashion for me also fits into 'art'.

Other things that might play a role is human preference for familiarity, and processing fluency (how easily something is procesed in our brain - some things are naturally harder to process than others). Including the brand name - if it easy to say - we are more likely to like it better (according to research). Of course there are multiple cues that subconciously come into play, this is just another.

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