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Glossy shiny trinkets win the monkey over

22 October 2011

Mmm... Shiny...

One thing that I’ve learnt working as a web developer is that gloss always sells – it seems to be a universal truth that everyone like shiny buttons on their web sites. Apart from web developers, that is. They’re getting pretty fed up with it.

This has got me thinking, though. Why is it that we like shiny glossy things so much? It seems to be inter-cultural and timeless, making it likely it’s a global human trait.

So. What could possibly be the reason for us humans to be so attracted to glossy things? Well, there are several possible explanations.

One theory is that glossy surfaces remind us of water, and that objects that are glossy would suggest that they are wet and juicy, like tasty fruit. Obviously, being attracted to juicy fruit could be quite handy for a fruit-eating monkey, and the attraction might just have stayed with us when we evolved into humans (we still like fruit, after all).

Ooh! Glossy..

The problem with this is that fruit in nature rarely is glossy on the outside. Unless it’s just been washed, fruit typically has a dull and dusty (even spiny and thorny) appearance. This makes the proposes link a little weak.

Another idea is that our preference for glossy things is just a self-propagating cultural meme, i.e. if enough individuals prefer glossy things it is beneficial for you to also prefer glossy things. You might after all stumble across a shiny trinket somewhere, and if you weren’t preconditioned to pick it up and keep it you’d have lost an opportunity to trade it for something valuable like food or protection.

But this doesn’t sit right with me. For one thing, we wouldn’t need to like glossy things to realise their value, and would just as easily collect them for pure materialistic reasons. Also, plenty of other species of animals* seem to be attracted to shiny objects, and it seems a bit unlikely that they all should just happen to like them by accident.

My Precious!

No, I believe the real reason we’re crazy for gloss is that it’s not very common. In nature, you’ll see plenty of dusty things, and a lot of dull things but very few glossy, shiny, reflective things. Apart from water, it’s really just precious stones and exposed metal that display that glossy surface. Glossy objects are rare, and therefore exclusive and potentially valuable.

So there you have it. The reason we like shiny things is because we’re clever enough to realise that they’re rare. Which is why shiny glossy trinkets win the monkey over.

* I won’t bore you with a list of species known to collect shiny objects, but it includes several birds like crows, magpies and bowerbirds.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 October 2011 12:35

    Okay, that button doesn’t do anything. I clicked it like eight times already.


  2. 22 October 2011 12:36

    I have often wondered… Is there any inherent value in gold and diamonds, other than the fact they are shiny?


    • 22 October 2011 13:08

      Well, gold is a useful metal in electronics, as it’s a very good conductor of electricity, and diamonds are useful in drill bits as they’ll cut through almost anything. But no, I think it’s mainly because they are quite rare.


  3. 22 October 2011 12:39

    On web developing: I love how people are so sure that if you make a button obnoxious enough someone WILL click it. Or wait, maybe they are right. Damn. I’m going to go work on my obnoxious button portfolio. See you later.



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