Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Fun with Fractals?

Why nature can be calming.

In the final chapter of our book*, we briefly discussed the impact of fractal patterns on stress. That's important because stress can interfere with our ability to experience happiness. Yet, what is it about fractal patterns that relaxes people and causes a decrease in stress?

First of all what are fractals?

In the context of psychology, fractals are repeating patterns that are identical, or similar. Examples in nature are leaves, snowflakes, flowers, ocean waves and similar elements in nature. Other examples from an artistic realm would be mandalas, overlapping patterns, or swirls upon swirls, such as many Jackson Pollack paintings.

Fractals and Stress Research

A considerable amount of research has been done on the effects of fractal patterns on human psychology. Experiments have been done using eye tracking equipment to better understand how people look at these patterns. Using fMRI imaging and other brain measurements, it appears that people have hard wiring that responds to certain forms of fractals in nature.

The results of many studies show that exposure to fractal patterns in nature reduce people’s levels of stress up to 60%. It seems this stress reduction effect occurs because of a certain physiological resonance within the eye. Some research indicates that certain types of artwork that have such patterns can also produce a relaxation affect. It may also be that certain architectural designs and landscapes can incorporate fractal patterns that resonate with relaxation. Of course, in large cities the sounds of traffic, and other distractions might neutralize any positive effects.

You may have been in a doctor or dentist office with scenic mural on the wall of some aspect of nature. Bringing nature and those repetitive patterns indoors can have a calming effect on patients.

So how can you use fractals to feel happier?

Take a walk in nature, go to a park, visit a garden, yours or someone else's, sit and watch the clouds for a while and notice the patterns. Or, you can do what children have often found pleasing; get a bottle of bubbles and blow bubbles outside.

Experiment for yourself and deliberately place yourself in one of those fractal-rich environments for about 20 minutes daily for a week. Notice your stress level before and after each episode. See how you can use fractals to bring more calm and relaxation to your day.


More from Peter Lambrou Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today