Does asymmetry affect our judgement?

    Posted on Tuesday, Mar 03, 2020
    Hey People! So, getting to the point, the title of this article might sound interesting and you were curious to get the know the answers — or — might not seem fascinated at all and keep scrolling through the article — works both ways. The article may not answer the question, but it does present you diverse opinions about it. So, let’s begin with a scenario — It’s the time when you have to buy groceries and fill the stock in your kitchen. You head over to the nearby stores and come across these two ones:
    1. Messy Store yet to be arranged (source: The Vacuous Times — ‘Woke Marketing’)

             b. Photo by nrd on Unsplash 
    So here is the question — Which one would you prefer to go, provided both of them have the same stuff? This question might not be a perfect one, provided there wasn’t enough information about the stores, for example, are the products costlier than other, does one provide free home delivery and diversity of products in each of them. So the information given is an asymmetric one as it is not all-inclusive (which we will cover later in the article). However, if you were to make a choice, you would head over the organized store as it will be convenient to get the products you are looking for and save a good amount of time in return.
    So, the dominant choice is based on the grounds of organizing the products as per the shelves and neatness of the overall image. Having products docked into their shelves, helps us to understand patterns and reduce the mental effort in searching for them. Rather we spend the same effort in deciding which one to buy among varieties of products, that is effective and meaningful. So, we can learn something about our brains in this example: Our brains like to search and interpret various patterns. Patterns can be easy and intuitive, while some can be random and in complete disorder. To avoid cognitive dissonance and reduce mental effort, our brain tends to attract to those patterns that are easily recognizable (if seen before) or easy to predict from a few initial data. Let’s discuss another example: Take two series of real numbers, such that:
    A = 1,2,3,4,5,6…
    B = 0, 4, 2, 3, 4, 4 …
    Try to predict the pattern of numbers in A and B. As you can see, it is relatively easy to predict numbers in pattern A than pattern B. Same thing with the brain! It picks up things that are easier to predict than the ones that require mental effort. Among the symmetrical and asymmetrical ones, our brains love the former as it is more recognizable. This mode of pattern recognition is ingrained in our brains via the subconscious mind. Although debatable, but your subconscious mind provides an image of what you feed it (As they say, change your mindset and not situation, to deal with problems). Right from our childhood, we come across various objects — at home, school, museum, video games — which are either symmetric or asymmetric in geometrical aspects. Having affinity to pick for the symmetrical ones, we tend to be uncomfortable with the asymmetrical objects, thereby, making a factor while making a decision. Having repeated over and over again, we accept symmetric shapes than asymmetrical ones. So this asymmetry can be in various forms and the two most recognizable are :
    Asymmetrical Geometry: As the name suggests, one half is not equal to the other half. This makes it harder for the brain to recognize the image and takes time to fully comprehend it.
    Asymmetrical Information: Information about all factors not equally presented. This can be due to not sufficient information or making decisions without balancing all available opinions. It is quite normal to take decisions in a hurry with the currently available information and not weigh in the opinions about them. For example, getting reviews of a book, which universities to apply, which type of apples are good, etc. A better example can be called a “Lemon Problem”, put forward by Dr. George A. Akerlof, an economist, and professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Here, the lemons are described as cars that are found to be defective only after it has been bought. As per Investopedia, the lemon problem can be best described :
    Akerlof’s original example of the purchase of a used car noted that the potential buyer of a used car cannot easily ascertain the true value of the vehicle. Therefore, they may be willing to pay no more than an average price, which they perceive as somewhere between a bargain price and a premium price. Adopting such a stance may at first appear to offer the buyer some degree of financial protection from the risk of buying a lemon. Akerlof pointed out, however, that this stance favors the seller, since receiving an average price for a lemon would still be more than the seller could get if the buyer knew that the car was a lemon. Ironically, the lemons problem creates a disadvantage for the seller of a premium vehicle, since the potential buyer’s asymmetric information, and the resulting fear of getting stuck with a lemon, means that they are not willing to offer a premium price for a vehicle of superior value.
    The role of asymmetric information in economics is tremendous and would find tons of articles describing the impact it can have on the buyers and the economic ecosystem.
    Having put forward the impact of asymmetry, one can feel it as something destructive and bad to have. Let’s look at the bright side: asymmetry has been deployed in designs in fashion, architecture and even in making dishes! If you have ever cooked any dish, you find there are varieties of combinations used, just to get the right taste! Besides, asymmetry has helped in developing intricate patterns that make them stand out from the rest. Have a look at this one:

    Photo by Nelson Estev√£o on Unsplash
    In one of the Freshome articles, titled “Why Asymmetry Is An Important Part of Interior Design (and How to Make it Work)”, there is a mention about how asymmetrical aspects in the design are interesting as compared to the symmetrical ones, that become monotonous with time
    There’s actually a psychological basis for why this occurs. It has to do with the way our brains process information. They aim to pick up on as many patterns and repetitions as possible, so the mirroring effect of symmetrical design makes those rooms very easy to figure out. In asymmetrical spaces, the patterns are less immediately obvious, so it takes our brains a bit longer to process them and ultimately makes them more interesting.
    Have a look at some of the interior designs that are based on asymmetry :

    Freshome : Why Asymmetry Is an Important Part of Interior Design (and How to Make it Work)

    The Principles of Design — Balance | the composed interior
    So coming down to the question — Does Asymmetry affect our judgment? It depends on how you see it. In some of the times, asymmetry can be troublesome and make us scratch our heads. While it can bring out great aesthetic designs that are appealing to the eye. From the above examples, the one thing, we all can take away, is to recognize the role of asymmetry in taking your decisions and the level of impact it can have.
    Fun Fact: This article has been written to provide symmetric information on the answer to the question in the title.
    Note: The author has expressed the views about the topic. Please do not quote any information as they are merely based on opinions and not on any based research material.

    Ritwik Kulkarni
    ---Ritwik Kulkarni is a Master Student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering

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