September 2017
Volume 17, Issue 10
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   August 2017
Towards a quantitative model of feeling beauty
Author Affiliations
  • Aenne Brielmann
    New York University, Department of Psychology
  • Denis Pelli
    New York University, Department of Psychology
Journal of Vision August 2017, Vol.17, 801. doi:
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      Aenne Brielmann, Denis Pelli; Towards a quantitative model of feeling beauty. Journal of Vision 2017;17(10):801. doi:

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

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Philosophers claim that beauty is a kind of pleasure. We empirically investigate the perceptual processes underlying beauty experiences. In our experiments, participants continuously rate their pleasure while experiencing various stimuli (seeing images of various kinds, touching an unseen teddy bear, eating candy) and for another 60 s after. And, at the end of each trial, they rate their overall feeling of beauty on a four-point scale. We collected data under six conditions (presentation durations of 1 to 30 s, with or without adding a cognitive task). Here, we present a parsimonious mathematical account for the entire data set (680 trials). Continuous pleasure ratings are well summarized by a one-free-parameter model: Pleasure quickly approaches a steady-state level rsteady during stimulus exposure (exponential time constant of 2 s). After stimulus offset, it slowly decays (100 s time constant). Stimulus kind and condition affect only the amplitude rsteady, with no effect on the model dynamics. The effects of stimulus and condition are separable. Each condition (duration or added task) attenuates mean pleasure of all stimuli by the same gain factor. The proposed model is parsimonious and predicts the distribution of rsteady (r=0.57). Thirteen free parameters — one strength per stimulus, one gain per condition, and a pleasure variance — explain the data of all 32 trial types tested (nearly all combinations of 6 stimuli x 6 conditions). Across stimuli and conditions, means of pleasure and beauty are directly proportional. Adding just two parameters — a proportionality constant between pleasure and beauty and a beauty variance — extends the model to also account for the beauty ratings with excellent fidelity, r=0.90. In conclusion, our model fits demonstrate that the subjective experience of beauty can be modelled quantitatively. Our model makes several testable hypotheses, e.g., that each experimental condition equally attenuates the pleasure and beauty of all stimuli.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2017


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