Experimental aesthetics

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Experimental aesthetics is a field of psychology founded by Gustav Theodor Fechner in the 19th century. According to Fechner, aesthetics is an experiential perception which is empirically comprehensible in light of the characteristics of the subject undergoing the experience and those of the object. Experimental aesthetics is the second oldest research area in psychology, psychophysics being the only field which is older.[1] In his central work Introduction to Aesthetics (Vorschule der Ästhetik) Fechner describes his empirical approach extensively and in detail. Experimental aesthetics is characterized by a subject-based, inductive approach.

Nowadays, psychologists and neuroscientists define the field of aesthetics more narrowly as considering the perception, creation, and evaluation of objects that evoke an intense feeling.[2] It is a specialized sub-field of empirical aesthetics that distinguishes itself by using experiments to test causal hypotheses. In contrast, empirical aesthetics also embraces survey studies, field observations, and other non-experimental methods. The field has developed significantly over the past few decades. On the one hand, through the continuous development of cognitive and emotional models of the description of aesthetic experience,[3][4] taking into account various psychological variables. On the other hand, through refined laboratory experiments, concerning specific questions but also diverse attempts to research aesthetic experiences in contexts that are typical for them, such as museums [5]).

Experimental aesthetics is strongly oriented towards the natural sciences. Modern approaches mostly come from the fields of cognitive psychology or neuroscience (aka neuroaesthetics).[6]


The analysis of individual experience and behavior based on experimental methods is a central part of experimental aesthetics. In particular, the perception of works of art,[7] music, or modern items such as websites [8] or other IT products[9] is studied. Data can be examined and analyzed at three levels:

  1. Physiological level
  2. Phenomenological level (experience)
  3. Behavioral level

Here it is difficult to assign an absolute value to the aesthetics of an object. However, one can measure, for example, what percentage of subjects classify an object as beautiful or how many prefer this object to others.

Depending on the approach, a number of different methods are used in experimental aesthetics, such as pairwise comparisons, rank order methods, Likert scales and semantic differentials, production methods, statistical comparisons of groups, reaction time measurements, and also more complex methods such as eye tracking, electroencephalography, and functional magnetic resonance imaging.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fechner, G. T. (1860), Elemente der Psychophysik (Elements of psychophysics), Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig
  2. ^ Chatterjee, Anjan (January 2011). "Neuroaesthetics: a coming of age story". Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 23 (1): 53–62. doi:10.1162/jocn.2010.21457. ISSN 1530-8898. PMID 20175677. S2CID 16834885.
  3. ^ Leder, H. & Nadal, M. (2014). Ten years of a model of aesthetic appreciation and aesthetic judgments: The aesthetic episode – Developments and challenges in empirical aesthetics. British Journal of Psychology. 443-464. doi:10.1111/bjop.1208
  4. ^ Pelowski, M., Markey, P., Forster, M., Gerger, G., & Leder, H. (2017). Move me, astonish me… delight my eyes and brain: The Vienna Integrated Model of top-down and bottom-up processes in Art Perception (VIMAP) and corresponding affective, evaluative and neurophysiological correlates. Physics of Life Reviews. Available online 27 February 2017, DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.plrev.2017.02.003
  5. ^ Pelowski M., Leder, H., Mitschke, V., Specker, E., Gerger, G., Tinio, P.P.L., Vaporova, E., Bieg, T. and Husslein-Arco, A. (2018). Capturing Aesthetic Experiences With Installation Art: An Empirical Assessment of Emotion, Evaluations, and Mobile Eye Tracking in Olafur Eliasson’s “Baroque, Baroque!”. Frontiers Psychology, 9:1255. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01255
  6. ^ Martindale, C. (2007), Recent trends in the psychological study of aesthetics, creativity, and the arts. In Empirical Studies of the Arts, 25(2), p. 121-141.
  7. ^ Kobbert, M. (1986), Psychology of Art (Kunstpsychologie), Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt
  8. ^ Thielsch, M. T. (2008), Ästhetik von Websites. Wahrnehmung von Ästhetik und deren Beziehung zu Inhalt, Usability und Persönlichkeitsmerkmalen. ("The aesthetics of websites. Perception of aesthetics and its relation to content, usability, and personality traits."), MV Wissenschaft, Münster
  9. ^ Hassenzahl, M. (2008), Aesthetics in interactive products: Correlates and consequences of beauty. In H. N. J. Schifferstein & P. Hekkert (Eds.): Product Experience. (pp. 287-302). Elsevier, Amsterdam

Further reading[edit]

  • Allesch, C. G. (1987), Geschichte der psychologischen Ästhetik. ("History of psychological aesthetics"), Verlag für Psychologie, Göttingen
  • Allesch, C. G. (2006), Einführung in die psychologische Ästhetik. ("Introduction to psychological aesthetics"), WUV, Vienna
  • Fechner, G. T. (1876), Vorschule der Ästhetik. ("Introduction to aesthetics"), Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig
  • Kebeck, Günther & Schroll, Henning, Experimentelle Ästhetik ("Experimental aesthetics"), Facultas Verlag, Vienna, ISBN 978-3-8252-3474-4
  • Leder, H., Belke, B., Oeberst, A., & Augustin, D. (2004), A model of aesthetic appreciation and aesthetic judgements. In British Journal of Psychology, 95, p. 489–508.
  • Nadal, M. & Vartanian, O. (Eds.) (2022): "The Oxford Handbook of Empirical Aesthetics". New York NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Reber, R., Schwarz, N., & Winkielman, P. (2004), Processing fluency and aesthetic pleasure: Is beauty in the perceiver's processing experience? In Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8, p. 364–382.
  • Skov, M. & Nadal, M. (Eds.) (2022): "The Routledge International Handbook of Neuroaesthetics". New York NY: Routledge.

External links[edit]