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Does everyday beauty match philosophers’ definitions?

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Brielmann, A., Nuzzo, A., & Pelli, D. (2019). Does everyday beauty match philosophers’ definitions?. Poster presented at 7th Visual Science of Art Conference (VSAC 2019), Leuven, Belgium.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-6D87-7
Many philosophers, including Plato, Kant, and Hegel, gave normative definitions of beauty. For instance, Kant claimed that beauty entails a disinterested pleasure that feels universal. But do these definitions match how people experience beauty today? To answer this question, we asked 100 participants to rate their experience of 15 images (pre-rated: 5 beautiful stock- and 5 beautiful art-images , 5 neutral stock-images) on 12 dimensions including pleasure, beauty, and disinterestedness. One trial consisted of rating one image on one dimension. The order of all trials was randomized. We find that beauty experiences are associated with strong pleasure, the claim that everyone should find the image beautiful, feeling more alive, more wanting to continue looking at the image, more connections with the image, greater longing, and greater disinterestedness. Surprise, the need-for-understanding of the image, free mind-wandering, and the extent to which the image tells a story are unrelated to reported beauty. A similar pattern holds true when people (N=99) rate a beauty memory instead of an image. This pattern is largely independent of image type. However, the pattern of association between ratings does differ between participants. The largest cluster (N=41) shows strong correlations between beauty and all other ratings. Conversely, correlations between beauty and other ratings are absent in a small group (N=14) of mostly male, Caucasian, and more conservative observers. In conclusion, beauty experiences on average fit some (pleasure, disinterestedness, universality) but not all (free mind-wandering) criteria of philosophers’ definitions. Yet, response patterns reveal three distinct observer groups.