The Science of Symmetry & What it Means for Your Home

The Science of Symmetry & What it Means for Your Home

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Carolyn Purnell
Oct 7, 2014

It's a commonly held belief that there is beauty in symmetry. With associations of balance, order, and harmony, symmetry pleases the eye and charms the intellect. What can the science of symmetry tell us about the home designs that we find most pleasing? And what role do our biological instincts play?

There are many types of symmetry, but we are mostly familiar with "bilateral symmetry," which works as a reflection. When something can be split down the middle, resulting in two pieces that match up identically, this is an example of bilateral symmetry. (For a short animated video on other types of symmetry in biology, see this TED Ed video.)

Why are we so drawn to symmetry, though?

A number of scientists claim that it our attraction to symmetry is, to an extent, biologically hardwired. In the words of Stanford student Charles Feng:

The rationale behind symmetry preference in both humans and animals is that symmetric individuals have a higher mate-value; scientists believe that this symmetry is equated with a strong immune system. Thus, beauty is indicative of more robust genes, improving the likelihood that an individual's offspring will survive.

A 2012 CNN series on beauty compiled similar findings from a variety of research groups, coming to the conclusion that when it comes to certain aspects of beauty, we are biologically led to favor symmetry.

(Image credit: HGTV)

Symmetry is far from the only way to create beauty, but it can be a powerful tool in creating a sense of security, order, and peace.

(Image credit: House*Tweaking)

That said, beauty is also in the eye of the beholder, and one should be careful when making bold, universal claims about aesthetics. Photographer Alex John Beck's series Both Sides Of plays with pairings of symmetrical faces to show that symmetry and beauty do not always go hand-in-hand, and there is much more to our sense of beauty than perfect reflections:

Many of the photos above featured interiors that seem symmetrical at first glance, but with a closer inspection, you'll notice some element that breaks up the symmetry: a throw casually draped on one side, the substitution of books for candles on one nightstand, a slight shuffling of accessories. In the picture below, the subtle differences in objects on the credenza and the vivid splash of the red stool make this a much more interesting corner.

(Image credit: Pablo Enriquez)

This suggests that for as much as we love symmetry, we also have some need for difference. The slightest changes can make an interior feel cozier, more welcoming, and more livable. Symmetry is attractive, but perfection can often give a hands-off vibe that doesn't work for a real-life home.

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