August 2014
Volume 14, Issue 10
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   August 2014
The Duration of Pleasure In the Experience of Beauty
Author Affiliations
  • Lauren Vale
    Psychology Deptartment and Center for Neural Science, New York University
  • Denis G. Pelli
    Psychology Deptartment and Center for Neural Science, New York University
Journal of Vision August 2014, Vol.14, 1365. doi:
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      Lauren Vale, Denis G. Pelli; The Duration of Pleasure In the Experience of Beauty. Journal of Vision 2014;14(10):1365.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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George Santayana (1896) defines beauty as the pleasure we attribute to an object. Immanuel Kant (1764) claims that beauty requires thought. We hypothesize that what distinguishes beautiful from merely pleasant things is beauty's lingering pleasure, after the object is gone. So we measure the time course of pleasure. People differ in what they find beautiful, so we begin by asking the observer to select an object (painting or photograph) that is beautiful and another that is pretty but not beautiful. We also provide a pleasant object, asking the observer to stroke an alpaca-fur teddy bear. Every 20 seconds, we ask observers to rate the pleasure (0-10) that they get from the object. We present the stimulus for 2 minutes, and record the observer's responses for 4 minutes. We study the decay of pleasure over time after stimulus withdrawal. In every condition, after stimulus offset, the pleasure decays nearly exponentially, and we estimate the 1/e time constant of the decay (τ). The pleasure lingers much longer after something beautiful (τ=544±105 s) than after something pretty or pleasant (τ=56±47 or 67±25 s, n=3). Further, we find that certain word-task conditions (reciting the months, remembering a phone number, or repeatedly hearing one's name) do not affect the pleasure of pretty and pleasant objects, yet curtail the duration of a beautiful object's pleasure to that of pretty and pleasant. (In those cases, observers say they didn't experience beauty.) Thus, indeed, lingering pleasure may be the hallmark of the beauty experience. Beauty's residual pleasure lasts ten times longer than that of pretty and pleasant, and is extinguished by our word-task conditions. Why are the word tasks so effective and selective in extinguishing the pleasure of beauty while sparing pretty and pleasant? Perhaps, as Kant said, beauty requires thought.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2014


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