He’s Interested in Interesting-ness

“What is interesting?” This perplexing question has been asked, and partially answered, by Dr. Paul Silvia, Associate Professor at the Social Psychology department of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The professor conducted a set of four experiments investigating ‘Interesting-ness’.

The first asked students to appraise a set of randomly generated polygons, like this one :

In the second they judged a section of a poem (The Life of Haifisch, about killer sharks.)


The third asked students to rate 12 B&W photos of experimental visual art.

[sorry, no images available]

And lastly, it was back to the polygons again :

– but this time the participants were allowed to view any of them for as long as they cared to – following the hypothesis that “…viewing time is a valid behavioral indicator of interest.”
The set of conclusions drawn from the results of all four studies was highly complex (see the link below to the full paper for details) – but one simple (and possibly counter-intuitive) result emerged –

“It seems unlikely that pleasantness is central to interest … ”

The paper ‘What Is Interesting? Exploring the Appraisal Structure of Interest’ was published in the journal Emotion, (2005, Vol. 5, No. 1, 89–102) and can be read in full here :

Supporting material : Several sets of interesting and not-so-interesting random polygons are provided here :

Also see: A Really Magazine item on another of professor Silvia’s investigations ‘Do People Prefer Curved Objects?






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