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Yi-Chia Chen, Andrew Chang, Monica Rosenberg, Brian Scholl, Laurel J. Trainor; Are you the sort of person who would like this? Quantifying the typicality of aesthetic taste across seeing and hearing. Journal of Vision 2019;19(10):174b. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/19.10.174b.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Aesthetic experience seems both regular and idiosyncratic. On one hand, there are powerful regularities in what we tend to find attractive vs. unattractive. (For example, most of us prefer images of beaches to images of mud puddles.) On the other hand, what we like also varies dramatically from person to person: what one of us finds beautiful, another might find distasteful. What is the nature of such differences in aesthetic taste? They may in part be arbitrary—e.g. reflecting the random details of highly specific past judgments (such as liking red towels over blue ones because they were once cheaper). But they may also in part be systematic—reflecting deeper ways in which people differ from each other in terms of their perceptual and/or cognitive processing. We assessed the systematicity of aesthetic taste by exploring its typicality across seeing and hearing. A large group of people rated the aesthetic appeal of wide ranges of both visual images of scenes and objects (e.g. beaches, buildings, and books), and common environmental sounds (e.g. doorbells, dripping, and dialtones). Each person’s ‘taste typicality’ for each modality was quantified by correlating their individual ratings with the mean ratings for each stimulus—thus capturing how similar each individual’s aesthetic preferences are to those of the group as a whole. We discovered that these typicality scores were reliably correlated across seeing and hearing in multiple independent samples—even when controlling for rating reliability and differences in how peoples used the scales. In other words, if you’re the sort of person who has (a)typical aesthetic preferences for visual images, you’re more likely to also be the sort of person who has (a) typical aesthetic preferences for sounds. This suggests that one’s ‘taste typicality’ is not entirely arbitrary, but rather reflects deeper factors that operate across multiple sensory modalities.
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