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Aenne Brielmann, Angelica Nuzzo, Denis Pelli; How people experience beauty vs. what philosophers claimed. Journal of Vision 2020;20(11):329. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.20.11.329.
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Many philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Hegel, gave normative definitions of beauty. But do these definitions match how people experience beauty today? And how similar are the felt beauties of music and images? We presented songs (N = 93) and art- and stock-images (N = 99). For each one, we asked participants to use 7-point scales to rate beauty and 11 further dimensions that philosophers have claimed to be essential to beauty. For images and music alike, beauty ratings were strongly predicted by: pleasure, a wish to continue the experience, feeling free of desire, and thinking that the experience would be beautiful to everyone, all p < 0.001. In a further experiment, ratings were high on all of these dimensions (min M = 5.10 on a scale of 1 to 7) when independent participants from the US (N = 183), the UK (N = 92), and India (N = 52) rated memories of intense beauty. Other frequently proposed beauty characteristics, like surprise, the need-for-understanding, and mind-wandering were not consistently related to beauty. These results provide a characterization of beauty experiences. They let us test philosophers’ claims against the reality of contemporary beauty experiences. For instance, we found support for five of Immanuel Kant’s claims (pleasure, being desire-free, universality, a wish for continuation, and no relation to the object’s story) but not for another six (free mind-wandering, surprise, feeling alive, a large number of connections with the object, and longing). Plato’s and Kant’s claims agree with our findings on 5 out of 11 dimensions, Aristotle’s on 4, and Hegel’s on 3.
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