Ooo, Shiny! Why Are We Attracted to Glossy, Sparkly Things?

You may find these gorgeous diamonds even more attractive if you're thirsty. . Shebeko/Shutterstock

Whether it's a glittering gem, glossy lips or a new coat of paint on a car, human beings like shiny things. We know it’s not simply an aesthetic preference, because studies show that even babies will paw at a jingling set of shiny keys or stare open-mouthed into a glassy mirror. The attraction is innate.

But why? Multiple studies have been conducted to solve the puzzle. And the answer is tied to one of the most basic, primal needs we have. It’s all about water.

Studying Shiny Appeal

A team of Belgian researchers attacked the question in six studies published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. In one of them, 46 participants were blindfolded and handed a piece of paper. Half of them got a matte sheet, and half got a glossy sheet. People who held the glossy sheet rated it as more attractive and of higher quality than the matte sheet, even without looking at it. And in another test, researchers printed out leaflets (for adults) and pictures of Santa (for kids) on matte paper and glossy paper. Both groups preferred the glossy sheets, according to the study.

Gold foil
Even when blindfolded, study participants rated shiny paper as more attractive and of higher quality than matte paper. Phatthanit/Shutterstock

Those tests suggest there's more to the allure of shine than a visual preference. Here's where the water comes into play. As Fast Company reports:

In the blindfold test, for instance, participants envisioned more water when asked to imagine a landscape depicted on the page — showing a perceived link between shiny and wet. In another test, this one without blindfolds, participants rated aquatic images as glossier than desert ones, although in truth there'd been no difference.
As a final experiment, the researchers divided 126 test participants into three groups. One group ate a bunch of crackers without any water. Another ate the crackers but also drank some water. A third did neither. Afterward, each group looked at eight photographs, half on glossy paper and half on matte. All three groups preferred the glossy pictures, but the groups that had eaten crackers rated them as much more attractive.

In other words, the thirstier the participants were, the more they wanted water and preferred glossy.

A Unique Shiny Affection

This Discovery News video notes that humans are the only animals that have such an obsession with shiny objects. (Scientists once thought birds might be as well, but it turns out they were incorrect.) Another interesting observation from the video: Babies have been known to lick the surface of a mirror much the way an animal would lap at a pool of water.

Basically, we're drawn to shiny things because our brains associate them with water. Now somebody tell my husband to go buy me some diamonds. I'm thirsty.