Aesthetics of (dis)order: How can we seek order but be interested in its violation?

We are driven not only by our need for security but also by curiosity and exploration, the potential for new experience and insight (see also “Aesthetic Aha” effect, Muth & Carbon, 2013). This is why we seek order and at the same can be stimulated and motivated by deviations from order or highly complex order (see also studies on “Unity-in-Variety”, Berghman & Hekkert, 2017). In our studies, volunteers created digital mosaic-like patterns with the software Flextiles (Westphal-Fitch et al., 2012). These images aroused most interest in another group of participants if they combined order with complexity or showed deviations from obvious order (see Figure 1 for exaples; Muth, Westphal-Fitch, & Carbon, in press). We suggest that we do not enjoy simple order as much as the process of ordering and therefore we are fascinated by images that allow for active engagement — even in perceptually challenging contexts.

Semantic instability

Figure 1. Mosaic-like patterns created via Flextiles, see Muth, Westphal-Fitch, & Carbon, in press.

Read more:

  • Muth C., Carbon, C. C. (2013). The Aesthetic Aha: On the pleasure of having insights into Gestalt. Acta Psychologica, 144(1), 25-30. doi: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2013.05.001

  • Muth, C., Westphal-Fitch, G., & Carbon, C. C. (in press). Seeking (dis)order. Ordering appeals but slight disorder and complex order trigger interest. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. doi: 10.1037/aca0000284


  • Berghman, Michaël & Hekkert, Paul. (2017). Towards a unified model of aesthetic pleasure in design. New Ideas in Psychology, 47, 136-144. doi: 10.1016/j.newideapsych.2017.03.004

  • Westphal-Fitch, G., Huber, L., Gómez, J. C., & Fitch, W. T. (2012). Production and perception rules underlying visual patterns: Effects of symmetry and hierarchy. Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society:Biological Sciences, 367, 2007-2022. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2012.0098