Fractals in psychology and art


Fractal Vision: (Left) The red trajectory shows the fractal motion of the eye as the observer looks at one of Jackson Pollock’s fractal paintings. (Right) A fMRI scan shows the region of the brain that are activated when viewing a fractal pattern.

I lead an interdisciplinary research network that investigates the positive physiological changes that occur in people when they look at fractal patterns. The experiments – which use eye-tracking equipment to examine how people look at the patterns, and qEEG and fMRI probing techniques to quantify the resulting brain activity – indicate that people are ‘hard-wired’ to respond to a specific form of fractal found in nature, one that reduces stress levels by up to 60%. This stress-reduction is triggered by a physiological resonance that occurs when the fractal structure of the visual system matches that of the fractal image being viewed. Our discovery that exposure to fractals automatically relaxes people holds crucial implications for society: the U.S. spends over $300 billion annually on stress-induced illnesses, and stress is increasingly blamed for precipitating debilitating disorders such as schizophrenia.

As society increasingly surrounds itself with urban landscapes, people risk disconnecting from this natural stress-reducer. Accordingly, my group investigates people’s responses to paintings created by artists famous for capturing the essence of nature on their canvases. For example, the positive physiological responses of viewing Jackson Pollock’s poured paintings and Mauk Escher’s tessellations might explain their enduring popularity. The long-term goal is to collaborate with artists and architects to incorporate stress-reducing fractals into novel indoor and outdoor environments. These ‘biophilic’ fractals could be used in many applications, ranging from keeping astronauts calm on their long journeys into space to soothing anxious patients in dentist waiting rooms.

Selected Recent Publications And Media

Fractal Expressionism, talk given at Asia Pacific Conference on Vision (2011)

Behavioral and Physiological Responses to Fractals:

Jackson Pollock:

Yves Klein:

Piet Mondrian:

Mauk Escher:

Jan Van Eyck:

Frank Gehry/FractalArchitecture:

Fractal Foams:

Fractal Crops Circles:

BIophilic Fractals:

Tactile Fractals:

Virtual Fractals:


Fractal Music and Art:

Fractals in Economics:

Fractal Levy Flights:

Fractal Creativity: