Human Emotions and Aesthetic Experience

Paul J. Silvia

in Aesthetic Science

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199732142
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918485 | DOI:
Human Emotions and Aesthetic Experience

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Empirical aesthetics seeks to examine aesthetic problems using the methods of scientific psychology. This chapter reviews the major assumptions, theories, and themes of empirical aesthetics. Most scientific research on aesthetic experience views aesthetic problems as special cases of broader problems of motivation and emotion. By assuming this, the tools and theories of mainstream psychological science can be brought to bear on aesthetic problems. As a result, much research in empirical aesthetics presents contrived art-like stimuli (such as random polygons) to samples of college students, most of whom are uninterested novices in the arts. After explaining the value of such methods, the chapter concludes that the artificiality of lab-based studies is both a strength and a weakness of modern research, and that future work should strive for greater realism. Three significant theories of aesthetic experience are then reviewed: Berlyne’s psychobiological model, the preference-for-prototypes approach, and the processing fluency approach. After considering some limitations of these approaches, particularly their narrow concern with mild feelings of preference, the chapter presents a model of aesthetic experience rooted in appraisal theories of emotion. An appraisal approach to aesthetics views emotions as arising from subjective understandings of art. It offers ways of understanding how individual differences influence aesthetic experience, and it greatly expands the kinds of states that can be considered as aesthetic states. Instead of identifying aesthetic experience with pleasure, preference, or liking, an appraisal approach contends that all emotions can be aesthetic emotions, including unusual emotions like interest, awe, shame, guilt, anger, and disgust.

Keywords: aesthetics; human emotions; aesthetic emotions; awe; interest; preference; pleasure; empirical aesthetics; appraisal theories

Chapter.  11948 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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