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Book Chapter

Empirical Aesthetics


Brielmann,  A
Department of Computational Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Brielmann, A. (2021). Empirical Aesthetics. In J. Fieser, & B. Dowden (Eds.), Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0008-7ACE-8
Empirical aesthetics is a research area at the intersection of psychology and neuroscience that aims to understand how people experience, evaluate, and create objects aesthetically. Its central two questions are: How do we experience beauty? How do we experience art? In practice, this means that empirical aesthetics studies (1) prototypically aesthetic responses, such as beauty or chills, and (2) responses to prototypically aesthetic objects, such as paintings and music. Empirical aesthetics also encompasses broader questions about how we experience other aesthetic experiences, such as ugliness and the sublime, and about how we create art. The field of empirical aesthetics aims to understand how such aesthetic experiences and behaviors emerge and unfold. To do so, researchers in the field link the observer’s characteristics to her responses, link the object properties to the observer’s responses, or describe an interaction between them. As a science, empirical aesthetics relies heavily on the analysis and interpretation of data. Data is primarily generated from experiments: Researchers conduct studies in which they manipulate the independent variables to observe the effect of those manipulations on one or more independent variables. In addition, empirical aesthetics relies on observational data, where people’s behavior is observed or surveyed without the introduction of manipulations.
Empirical aesthetics is as old as empirical psychology. The first thorough written account dates back to Gustav Fechner, who published Vorschule der Aesthetik in 1876. Nonetheless, the modern field of empirical aesthetics can be considered rather young. Its gain in popularity in the 21st century can be linked to the emergence of neuroaesthetics—the study of brain responses associated with aesthetic experiences—in the late 1990s. Contemporary empirical aesthetics studies aesthetic experiences with a variety of methods, including brain-imaging and measures of other physiological responses, such as the movements of the eyes and facial muscles.