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Thinking by Design

The science of everyday beauty reveals what people really like--and why
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Yuji Sakai Getty Images

Walking down a residential street in the evening, you might find yourself glancing through the brightly lit windows of the houses you pass. As you peek inside, you take stock of the occupants’ selections: the mahogany chaise lounge with the curved armrests in one house, the sleek leather couches and minimalist paintings in another.

Each person’s aesthetic taste seems distinct, and yet that perception belies a large body of shared preferences. Our team at the University of Vienna, among others, has sought to unravel the patterns and principles behind people’s emotional reactions to objects. Although trends drive certain design decisions, scientists have identified fundamental properties of the mind that consistently dictate which products people tend to like and dislike. Psychologists are now better equipped than ever to explain how you came to choose your belongings in the first place. They can also begin to decipher why you continue to love certain purchases long after they have lost their initial shine, whereas others land in the trash.

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