Hidden Knowledge in Aesthetic Judgments

Stephen E. Palmer, Karen B. Schloss and Jonathan Sammartino

in Aesthetic Science

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199732142
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918485 | DOI:
Hidden Knowledge in Aesthetic Judgments

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Aesthetic response is an important aspect of human experience, but surprisingly little is known about why people like some visual displays more than others. We discuss recent empirical results from our laboratory concerning aesthetic preferences for colors and spatial composition. In both domains, it turns out that preferences are influenced by implicit ecological knowledge of the environment. In the color domain, we describe an ecological valence theory (EVT) based on the hypothesis that color preferences are caused by people’s average affective responses to color-associated objects in the environment: people like colors that are strongly associated with objects they like (e.g., blues with clear skies and clean water) and dislike colors strongly associated with objects they dislike (e.g., browns with feces and rotten fruit). We describe data that strongly support this claim. In the spatial domain, we present results that point to robust, systematic “default” biases in preference for object locations within a rectangular frame – a center bias, an inward bias, a perspective bias, and several ecological biases – most of which depend on people’s knowledge of the salient properties of objects and their relations to human observers. Further results show that altering the meaning of an image through different titles can change the preferred spatial composition to one that violates the default biases if it is consistent with the title provided. We interpret these results as being consistent with a theory of aesthetic preference based on the “fit” between the compositional structure of the image and its intended (or inferred) meaning.

Keywords: color preference; spatial composition; ecological valence; center bias; inward bias; ecological bias; representational fit

Chapter.  14520 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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