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Beauty and pleasure: Beauty correlates with valence and anhedonia, but not arousal and depression

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Abstract

Philosophers, psychologists, and common sense agree that beauty is a kind of pleasure. Here, we assess the relationships between the intensity of beauty, valence (pleasure vs. displeasure), arousal (calm vs. excited), anhedonia, and depression. We use the 900 OASIS images and their normative valence and arousal scores. In this study, 757 participants rated how intensely they felt beauty from each image. If beauty is a kind of pleasure, the inability to experience pleasure (anhedonia) should prevent the experience of beauty. To test this, we obtained self-reports of anhedonia (TEPS), as well as depressive symptoms (PHQ-9) and current mood. We find that beauty ratings are highly correlated with valence (r=0.75) but mostly unrelated to arousal and depressive symptoms. In addition, the worse the mood or anhedonia participants report, the less beauty they experience from images that typically elicit high beauty. We thus provide the first normative ratings of beauty on a large set of images. Our results suggest that beauty is closely related to the experience of pleasure, but unrelated to arousal. Consistent with the association to pleasure, the feeling of beauty produced by nominally beautiful images is negatively correlated with low mood and anhedonia.
Beauty and pleasure
Beauty correlates with valence and anhedonia, but not arousal and depression
Aenne A. Brielmann & Denis G. Pelli
VSAC, 2018
@aabrielma
Beauty and pleasure
Philosophers have long claimed that beauty is a kind of pleasure.
(e.g., Hume, 1878; Kant, 1790; Santayana, 1896)
“pleasure and pain … are not only necessary attendants
of beauty and deformity, but constitute their very essence”
(Hume, 1878)
David Hume
Beauty and pleasure
“The potential to immediately elicit liking and therewith
pleasure always stays central for the term beauty …”
(Fechner, 1876)
Studies confirm a strong positive correlation between beauty and
pleasure.
(Brielmann & Pelli, 2017; Brielmann, Vale, & Pelli, 2017; Vartanian et al., 2013)
Gustav T. Fechner
Beauty and pleasure
If pleasure is essential for beauty, the inability to
experience pleasure should impair the ability to
experience beauty.
Anhedonia: “inability to experience pleasure in
normally pleasurable acts.” (Merriam-Webster)
Anhedonia is a core symptom of depression.
Beauty and arousal
Pleasure and aesthetic value have an inverted U-shaped
relationship with arousal:
Highest beauty arises at intermediate levels of arousal.
(Aesthetics and Psychobiology, Berlyne, 1971)
D. E. Berlyne
What is the relation between
beauty, pleasure, and arousal?
Stimuli
All 900 images from the Open Affective Standardized Image Set (OASIS).
(Kurdi, Lozano, & Banaji, 2017)
Procedures
757 US Americans participated via Amazon mechanical Turk.
Each rated 225 of the 900 OASIS images.
“How intense [is] the feeling of beauty that the picture evokes?”
Afterwards they rated their mood, provided demographics, and
completed the anhedonia and depression questionnaires.
Anhedonia & depression scales
Anhedonia: temporal-experience-of-pleasure scale (TEPS)
e.g. “I get so excited the night before a major holiday I can hardly sleep”
(anticipatory)
“The smell of freshly cut grass is enjoyable to me”. (consummatory)
(Gard, Gard, Kring, & John, 2006)
Depression: PHQ-9
Over the last 2 weeks, how often have you […]
e.g. “Little interest or pleasure in doing things”
(Martin, Rief, Klaiberg, & Braehler, 2006)
Beauty and pleasure
Beauty, pleasure and arousal
Beauty, pleasure, and arousal
Beauty and anhedonia
Beauty and anhedonia
Beauty and depression
Anhedonia, not depression
limits beauty experiences
Beauty correlates with pleasure & anhedonia,
but not arousal and depression
Beauty is highly positively correlated with pleasure
but largely independent of arousal.
Usually intensely beautiful images lose their beauty with lowered
mood and heightened symptoms of anhedonia,
but not depression.
Vincent Van Gogh, Daubigny’s Garden (1890)
presumably his last finished painting before his suicide
Thank you!
Qihan Wu (incredibly talented Master’s student) Denis Pelli
Beauty correlates with pleasure & anhedonia,
but not arousal and depression
Beauty is highly positively correlated with pleasure
but largely independent of arousal
Usually intensely beautiful images lose their beauty with lowered
mood and heightened symptoms of anhedonia,
but not depression.
Do you want to use our beauty ratings?
Contact me: aenne.brielmann@nyu.edu
757 participants
(367 men, 387 women, 3
“other”, Mage = 38.4 years,
SD =12.7, range =18-84)
from Amazon mechanical
Turk (mTurk) to
“Rate images on how
beautiful they are” in
exchange for $1.
Shaded areas in panel B
indicate provisional
diagnoses for PHQ-9 scores
as provided in its manual
(http://www.cqaimh.org/pdf/t
ool_phq9.pdf).
Example images in panel A show the
lowest and highest rated image as
well as one of the images receiving
the median average rating of 4.45.
The model prediction in panel C is
based on 190 simulated beauty
ratings per image (as many as
participant ratings per image on
average), drawn from a normal
distribution with the mean of the
average beauty rating and an SD of
1.7, and rounded to the nearest
allowed integer response 1 to 7.
No inverted U-shape
Raw data Residuals
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