Say that you enjoy looking at two beautiful paintings (A and B). But you really can't tell which one you like more, and you want to (quantitatively).

So, you compare them both to your favorite painting (C), which you know you really like to look at (adjusting for novelty).

In order to do this, you vary the size of your favorite painting C on a computer screen (or its distance from you in real life), and find the point at which C is so much smaller that you'd rather look at A. You do the same for painting B.

You then attempt to quantify how much you prefer A to B by asking: for which painting (A or B) was C larger when you first preferred to look at that painting rather than C? This is the one that you prefer more, and the distance between the C "breakpoints" gives some measure of your relative preference.

Of course this difference will be at best an interval measurement, not a ratio one, but that's usually better than no measurement.

Here is my question: what is this procedure (or some variant of it) called? This seems like a basic enough test that it must already be in use, and I am curious to hear more about it.

Related question: How is the size of a video related to its perceived quality?

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    $\begingroup$ Can you find an example in the literature? I have never heard of this before. If it's not used by anyone, it probably doesn't have a name. $\endgroup$
    – Jeff
    Nov 21, 2012 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ Hi, no I haven't found an example in the literature. Do you know where I would start? (key words to search, etc.) $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2012 at 22:48
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry Andy, no keyword suggestions. I would start at google scholar. More importantly, do you have any reason to believe this measure actually exists? It doesn't sound like a very reliable or valid way to measure preference. $\endgroup$
    – Jeff
    Nov 21, 2012 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ Jeff, it seems to me like it'd be kind of useful. Can you explain why it's no good? $\endgroup$ Nov 22, 2012 at 14:44
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    $\begingroup$ my first thought is, if you're going to ask them which picture they would prefer to look at, why not just ask them which they prefer? it's a much more direct measure. i also have doubts that people would switch at all. mostly, i have no reason to believe the size of the photos correlates at all with my actual preference. of course i'd love to be proved wrong... $\endgroup$
    – Jeff
    Nov 22, 2012 at 16:15

1 Answer 1


Dude. This is an awesome experiment.

Emotional Design is written by my favorite cognitive psychologist, Donald Norman. It's full of research on taste. In it, he says taste is highly subjective and based on culture.

C is probably equally distant in both cases, at the point where it becomes unreadable. Unless at that point you'd rather look at C and say, "Hey, what's that?!" Like ship sails far away in the ocean.

One last point. We have no idea why we behave. We just rationalize it afterward. What we say we like and the way we behave are totally different. Girls just want to be with a nice guy.

There was a Harvard study for a painting class. Each class painted 5 paintings (or something). At the end of the semester, the teacher gave a class one of their paintings back. For the other class, the students took home their favorite painting. They waited 6 months (or something) and interviewed the students. The students who were given their painting LOVED it. They had their painting proudly displayed somewhere. The students who were given a choice were unhappy. They kept wondering what-if? They never felt right about their painting and most of them hid it away, maybe under a bed.

There's good evidence that if you want to stay happily in a relationship with someone, DON'T THINK ABOUT WHY YOU LIKE THEM. It will end badly. There's a whole study on this as well. It got ugly.


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