September 2019
Volume 19, Issue 10
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2019
Feeling beauty requires the ability to experience pleasure
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Aenne A Brielmann
    Department of Psychology, New York University
  • Denis G Pelli
    Department of Psychology, New York University
    Center for Neural Science, New York University
Journal of Vision September 2019, Vol.19, 98a. doi:
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      Aenne A Brielmann, Denis G Pelli; Feeling beauty requires the ability to experience pleasure. Journal of Vision 2019;19(10):98a.

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

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Since the beginning of psychology, researchers have tried to understand beauty. Here, we address two of the oldest questions about it. First, Fechner (1876) claimed that beauty is immediate pleasure, and that an object’s pleasure determines its value. Focusing on the first claim, if beauty is pleasure then inability to experience pleasure (anhedonia) should prevent the experience of beauty. Second, ever since Fechner, psychologists have asked how much beauty depends on the object versus the observer. We address this by determining the relative contribution of shared versus individual taste for diverse images. We asked 757 participants to rate how intensely they felt beauty from each image. We used 900 OASIS images along with their available valence (pleasure vs. displeasure) and arousal ratings. We then obtained self-reports of anhedonia (TEPS), mood, and depression (PHQ-9). The feeling of beauty is closely related to pleasure (r = 0.75), yet unrelated to arousal. For normally beautiful images, the feeling of beauty is correlated with anhedonia (r ~ −0.3) and mood (r ~ 0.3), yet unrelated to depression. Follow-up repeated measures show that shared taste contributes only one third (19%) as much as personal taste (58%) to beauty-rating variance. Addressing age-old questions, these results indicate that beauty is a kind of pleasure, and that beauty is more relative than absolute, i.e., 1.7 times more correlated with individual than with shared taste.


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