We spend billions of dollars to experience beauty, e.g., buying art, concert tickets, or trips to places on earth that offer more to our senses than the one-bedroom apartment we have been living in for years. It seems that aesthetic experiences, such as the experience of beauty, are of unrivaled value. Some even suggest that they may be the experience that uniquely defines humankind.
What makes the experience of beauty so special to us?
In my PhD project, I aim to answer this question with the tools of experimental psychology. The hypotheses that I am testing are inspired by various fields such as philosophy, the arts, art history, empirical and neuro-aesthetics.
I consider myself to be lucky to have entered a young emerging field that provides me with new questions to ask almost every day. So far I have set out to answer the following ones together with my supervisor Denis Pelli, my fellow PhD student Lauren Vale, and my collaborator Jesse Prinz:
- What are the (unique) necessary ingredients for a beauty experience?
- Does beauty require thought?
- Does beauty require authenticity?
- How is beauty related to core emotional experiences (valence and arousal)?
- Do depressed people, who feel less pleasure overall, still experience beauty?
- How does additional information about an object, e.g., that it is especially dangerous, influence our aesthetic judgments?
I hope to not only find a few answers to these questions in the next ~4.5 years, but also to extend the list of questions itself.