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The irresistible deviance of proportions

June 3, 2015

venus-figurines

Why are the curves on a Venus so irresistible, that prehistoric artists carved them in stone to last for eternity? The Nobel Prize winner Nikolaas Tinbergen created a set of dazzling experiments in animal behaviour, that may give us the answer.

While studying interactions between animals half a century ago, this Dutch biologist got an idea. He altered the natural shapes and colours to create bizarrely looking individuals with distorted features. Yet, after real animals saw these unrealistically looking models with strange body features, something unexpected happened. They preferred the exaggerated creations over their natural shaped and sized fellows. Some fish became jealous toward vibrant intruders, mother birds would neglect their offspring to nest the colourful fakes, and many even diverted food from their own chicks to please the models. Various animals prefer attention-grabbing forms over their companions, even when they look completely unrealistic, concluded Tinbergen.

Are heavily altered photographs of people, just a simple extension of this behaviour? In the media we can hardly find the image that is not prettier and more exuberant than the reality. Going for overly flashier and the most attention-grabbing individuals seem to be in our genes. Perhaps that is why all the attempts to regulate digitally modified images are so controversial.

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From → Zeitgeist

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