The Power of Patterns
Updated: Sep 17
Patterns play a crucial role in how we perceive and interpret the world. Our brains are naturally drawn to patterns, whether in nature, science, art, music, or movement. Repetition provides visual interest, creates order, establishes coherence, conveys meaning, and evokes emotional, psychological, and even physiological responses. This blog post looks at two different types of patterns and our reactions to them.
Tessellation is the art of creating a pattern through continuous, repetitive arrangement of shapes that cover a flat surface to make a harmonious whole. In Latin, the word "tessella" means "small square,” but tessellations can use triangles, polygons, or even irregular shapes as building blocks.
The most basic tessellations are familiar to us from the arrangements of floor and wall tiles. But the technique can be used to create highly intricate patterns. Islamic architecture, which eschews depictions of animals or humans, relies instead on geometric, floral, arabesque, and calligraphic forms but is also known for its use of tessellations, as in the blue interior of the Saint Petersburg Mosque. Persian carpets may feature tessellations in their border patterns, based on underlying grid structures composed of tessellations. Quilt patterns also frequently incorporate them.
M.C. Escher extensively explored tessellations in his work, often dividing planes with animal figures. His art, such as the painting "Lizards," features repeated six-sided figures, showcasing his fascination with geometric patterns and their associations with natural objects.
Looking at tessellations can lead to increased focus and cognitive processing as we recognize patterns and shapes within them. Some tessellations, particularly those with flowing patterns, promote relaxation and reduce stress, making them suitable in interior design for environments like spas or meditation spaces. They’ve also been used to distract patients from discomfort during medical procedures.
Fractals, which are self-replicating and infinitely complex patterns, can be found in a wide range of natural phenomena. In nature, they’re most familiar to us in snowflakes, leaves, flowers, and the branching structure of trees. But fractal characteristics, such as self-similar shapes in different scales, can also be seen in the shape of coastlines, clouds, and mountain ranges. In the human body, the branching patterns of blood vessels and neural networks also exhibit fractal-like structures.
Art also references fractals. Mandalas, originating from Buddhist and Hindu traditions, often feature intricate geometric patterns with fractal-like qualities. These patterns radiate from a central point in concentric circles, with smaller motifs replicating the overall design at various scales. They’ve also been observed in drips and swirls in many Jackson Pollack paintings, which seem random, but that often exhibit self-similar patterns.
Fractals have a particularly strong calming effect on the parasympathetic system. Studies indicate that looking at fractals increases alpha brain waves and blood flow to the para-hippocampus and other areas of the brain that regulate emotions. According to recent studies, exposure to fractal patterns can reduce stress by up to 60 percent, an effect that may occur because of a physiological resonance with the eye.