Why are certain things beautiful?

Beauty is complicated

Can something be beautiful even though we don't think it's beautiful? Why do we find some things beautiful and others not? And what does aesthetics actually mean? Prof. Dr. Helmut Leder and Dr. Michael Forster answered some fundamental questions in the run-up to the 24th conference of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics (IAEA 2016), which will take place from August 29 to September 1 at the University of Vienna.

What we perceive as beautiful and why certain music, literature and art touch us, people have been thinking about for centuries. It is not surprising that scientists from different disciplines can contribute equally different things to the discourse on aesthetics. Next week over 200 scientists will discuss aesthetics from the perspective of their discipline at the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics (IAEA 2016).

The doctrine of the beautiful

But what does aesthetics actually mean? The Duden defines aesthetics as the theory of beauty. The term comes from the Greek and describes the science of what is sensually perceptible.

In our everyday life we ​​notice that not everyone finds the same thing beautiful. Helmut Leder and Michael Forster from the Institute for Basic Psychological Research and Research Methods at the University of Vienna also know why this is the case: a multitude of factors are responsible for what we like. Some are the same with many people.

Nice average

In the case of faces, the meanness, symmetry and evenness of the skin are considered indicators of beauty. However, there are many other social factors that lie in our own individual life stories. "Our goal is to find out what weight shared factors and what weight individual different factors have in making the judgment of favor," say the two scientists about their work.

Socialization, peers and familiarity

In addition, socialization and our personal environment also play a decisive role. Leder and Forster were able to prove that informing fellow students or experts about whether they like a work of art has a positive influence on our own judgment. "So we like what our peers like, or also what experts find beautiful."

Another important factor is familiarity, according to the two experts: “Numerous studies show that we like what is familiar to us. This familiarity develops, among other things, purely through repeated contact. In other words, even when we are repeatedly exposed to certain songs or images, they gain familiarity (relative to non-repeated ones) and thus become more popular. ”There are also studies that have shown that round shapes are more appealing than angular ones.

What do we need beauty for?

So can it be said that we need beauty? Leder and Forster believe that the sense of beauty controls what we recognize as good (for ourselves). In addition, their studies using measurements of subtle emotions have shown that beauty elicits small doses of positive emotions.

So what would a world look like in which people had no sense of aesthetics? Leder and Forster: “Probably less beautiful, but that wouldn't bother anyone. Because people have no sense of aesthetics, they would not notice the difference either. "

Shed light on aesthetics from different angles

Next week, scientists from different disciplines will exchange ideas on aesthetics. For example, when a psychologist and a biologist talk about aesthetics, do they mean the same thing? - Finally, did we want to know about Leder and Forster.

The two explain that there is a scientific and a humanities orientation within psychology. The scientific orientation has major links with biology. For example, she uses similarly defined and occupied terms. The humanities psychology, on the other hand, is closer to philosophy. It could therefore happen that a psychologist and a biologist mean the same thing, but not two psychologists with different orientations.

“The aim of this conference, however, is to bring together scientists from a wide variety of disciplines and to shed light on the exciting topic of empirical aesthetics from different angles. This is the only way we can come to new and innovative insights in this complex topic. "

Therefore, at the 24th conference of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics (IAEA 2016), art historians and philosophers will exchange ideas with biologists and artists.

Author: Barbara Fohringer


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