Are fractals the cure to sadness?

People today experience higher levels of stress and depression than in the past. A common treatment for these problems (besides going to the therapist) is going outside, preferably to green, natural spaces. But why would you go for a walk through the woods rather than stroll down a city street? According to a new study, the answer might be fractals.

A fractal is a fragmented geometric figure that can be divided into parts so that each part is a miniature copy of the whole. Fractals can be found all over nature: trees, lightning, snowflakes, clouds, cauliflower and coastlines are some examples.

It has been previously proven that nature has a soothing effect on the human mind. People experience less stress when they’re in or able to look at green spaces. Patients have been found to recover quicker from surgery when given hospital rooms with windows looking out on nature, instead of urban environments. And since nature is full of fractals, the article assumes there might be some correlation between fractals and peace of mind.

Using a Visual Simulation Software (VAS), which produces a color heat-map of where the eye spends its time in viewing a picture, it was concluded that people have an easier time finding fractals and they held the participants’ attention for longer.

When it comes to cities and modern architecture, fractals haven’t been incorporated in the design. Modern architecture follows the principle of function over form; this means that the purpose of a building should be the starting point for its design, ornaments and decorations taking a step back or being completely overlooked. Urban environments are heavy on box-shaped buildings, simple corridors and windowless cubicles. As a result, buildings lack any complexity.

An attribute that fractals have is dimension. If the dimension of a fractal has a small value, then the fractal is a simpler one, and if the dimension of a fractal has a large value, then the fractal is complex. People are drawn to fractals that are more intricate, therefore they prefer fractals that have a medium to higher dimension. Since modern buildings lack complexity, they have a lower value on the dimension scale.

The article suggests that if we want to improve the living standards in the cities, we must change the way we approach architectural design and incorporate more fractals. Classical European architecture is an example of a style with a high dimension value. In addition, making room for more parks and green spaces will improve the quality of life, thanks to the prevalence of fractals in nature.

It is not secret that living in a concrete jungle tends to make people unhappy. Cities are crowded, loud and polluted, which makes for an unpleasant experience. From my point of view, saying that the absence of fractals is the cause for the stress that we experience in our daily lives overestimates the influence that fractals have on us. Correlation doesn’t equal causation. There are other factors that need to be taken into consideration when we discuss the improvement of our cities. Fractals aren’t the be-all and end-all solution to our problems.


Name: Vlasin Teodora-Maria

Source: Brielmann, A.A.; Buras, N.H.; Salingaros, N.A.; Taylor, R.P. What Happens in Your Brain When You Walk down the Street? Implications of Architectural Proportions, Biophilia, and Fractal Geometry for Urban Science. ,35,Urban Sci. 2022, 6, 3. 10.3390/urbansci6010003

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *