At their basic level, fractals are repeating patterns that reveal greater complexity the more they are enlarged. Some are geometric and easy to spot, like a snowflake or the popular example known as the Sierpinski Triangle, a triangle made of so many smaller triangles that the closer you look the more triangles you find.
Others are more subtle, their geometry so irregular it appears chaotic. A swirl of clouds or the complex interlacing of tree branches might seem random to the naked eye, but when examined in extremely close detail they reveal patterns built of patterns built of patterns.
Taylor has been studying these patterns for more than a half-dozen years, and most recently he found that people actually have a physical reaction to fractals that is strongest when the patterns have a certain "D value." The D value is a measure of fractal complexity; the least complex patterns have a value of 1.0 and the most complex 2.0.
People, it turns out, like fractals with a D value between 1.3 and 1.5. Taylor learned this by measuring skin conductivity during stress tests in which subjects were asked difficult questions, given a minute to relax, and then asked another question.
The questions produced a measurable level of stress. But when put through the same test while certain fractals were shown in the background, the stress level nose-dived, Taylor said.
"If you put the picture in the background while they're doing this - we didn't even tell them to look at it or draw attention to it - we find that a 1.3 D value actually reduces stress levels by 60 percent," he said.