Commentary on Corradi et al.’s (2019) new conception of aesthetic sensitivity: is the ability
Note : This is a pre-print version of the accepted paper. The full paper is available at
Myszkowski, N., Çelik, P., & Storme, M. (2020). Commentary on Corradi et al.’s (2019) new
conception of aesthetic sensitivity: Is the ability conception dead? British Journal of
COMMENTARY ON CORRADI ET AL. (2019) 2
Corradi et al. (2019) argue that their new conception of visual aesthetic sensitivity (as
responsiveness to aesthetic features in one’s preferences) presents several advantages in
comparison with the current ability view of aesthetic sensitivity, usually defined as the ability
to judge aesthetic stimuli in accordance with standards (Child, 1964). Although the measure
they propose is interesting and presents advances to the field, we point to important issues.
Notably, the authors conveniently base their comparison between the two conceptions on
psychometric double standards, discard a century of research on aesthetic sensitivity by
focusing on Eysenck’s speculations, and disguise an extension of already existing aesthetic
preference tests (e.g., Barron & Welsh, 1952; Wilson & Chatterjee, 2005) as a redefinition of
aesthetic sensitivity. We conclude that both aesthetic preference and aesthetic sensitivity
research are legitimate objects of study, that the authors present interesting ideas to further
the study of aesthetic preferences, but that their approach is not new and that its proposed
renaming only adds confusion to the field.
Keywords: Aesthetic sensitivity, good taste, aesthetic ability, aesthetic preferences, individual
COMMENTARY ON CORRADI ET AL. (2019) 3
Commentary on Corradi et al.’s (2019) “new” conception of aesthetic sensitivity: is
the ability conception dead?
Corradi et al. (2019) propose that the current conception of aesthetic sensitivity – as
the ability to identify aesthetic quality in conformity with external standards (e.g. expert
consensus) – needs replacement into a new conception: aesthetic sensitivity should be
redefined as the extent to which certain features of a stimulus are used to form a subjective
aesthetic judgment. Although their proposed approach has merits, their (unnecessary)
comparison is biased in several ways. In the present commentary, we critically review some
of the key arguments used to build their case against the ability conception of aesthetic
Are existing measures of aesthetic sensitivity so bad?
A key argument of the authors against the ability conception of aesthetic sensitivity is
the alleged poor psychometric properties of existing tests. Certainly, measures of aesthetic
sensitivity are largely imperfect, but most of the authors claims here are inaccurate or
obsolete. The Visual Aesthetic Sensitivity Revised for example presents good internal
consistency, unidimensionality and structural validity (e.g., Myszkowski & Storme, 2017).
Combining its qualities with previous research on the original test, we may add that there is
encouraging evidence of cultural measurement invariance as well (e.g., Chan, Eysenck, &
Götz, 1980). The authors also point to the correlations between the VAST and other
constructs (specifically intelligence) as problematic. We agree that they are not in line with
Eysenck’s speculations, but they remain a non-issue, because 1) aesthetic sensitivity and
intelligence in the visual aesthetic are both part of the same nomological network
(Myszkowski, Çelik, & Storme, 2018) – next to such constructs like figural creativity and
openness-related traits – 2) such relations are consistent across tests (Myszkowski et al.,
2018), 3) sensory perception tasks in general are correlated with intelligence, and 4) the
COMMENTARY ON CORRADI ET AL. (2019) 4
correlations remain weak to moderate at best – thus maintaining discriminant validity. As a
comparison, creativity is often found to hold relations of the same magnitude with
intelligence and openness – should we infer from Corradi et. al.’s logic that creativity
research should also be abandoned?
More importantly, the authors’ attacks severely contrast with their own empirical
inquiry. Notably, they do not report (or even suggest to later study) their instrument’s internal
consistency, dimensionality or measurement invariance – even though, quite likely, some of
these qualities could have been studied in their very sample. Not exposing their instrument to
an empirical inquiry using the same canons bases the entire comparison of the authors on
Bad measures do not imply bad constructs
More than defending the (perfectible) qualities of visual aesthetic sensitivity tests, we
want to point out that, even if these tests had been flawed in their psychometric qualities, this
would not discard the construct itself, nor its definition. Should we discard intelligence as a
construct because one intelligence test is deemed to be psychometrically insufficient? Of
course not, because a construct and its measures are different. This brings us to the attacks on
the ability construct definition itself.
The authors argue that the ability conception of aesthetic sensitivity is “meaningful
and useful only if beauty is truly an objective value”. Indeed, Eysenck probably believed in
an “objective beauty”, a hardly defensible idea philosophically. Still, the existence of an
“objective beauty” is not a necessary condition for the study of aesthetic sensitivity, and thus
this point is irrelevant. Since Thorndike (1916), it has been clearly admitted that the aesthetic
value of a stimulus is actually only determined by expert consensus. Also, Child’s (1964)
definition of aesthetic sensitivity, which is currently the most used for the construct, clearly
describes aesthetic sensitivity as the ability to “judge in relation to external standards”, again
COMMENTARY ON CORRADI ET AL. (2019) 5
without claiming objectivity. We believe that investigating the extent to which individuals
agree with experts on aesthetic value is interesting both from a fundamental and from an
applied perspective, regardless of whether objective beauty exists or not.
Unfortunately, even though the authors briefly mention the history of aesthetic
sensitivity research, they largely attack the ability approach of aesthetic sensitivity by
attacking Eysenck’s claims. Despite significant contributions to the field, the ability
conception predates and postdates Eysenck, as several analogous tests existed before Eysenck
(e.g., Thorndike, 1916) – some of them are still in use (e.g., Summerfeldt, Gilbert, &
Reynolds, 2015). Further, the commonly used construct definition was provided by Child
(1964), not Eysenck. Thus, Eysenck’s speculations and beliefs being correct or incorrect is
not relevant to the legitimacy of the construct.
The authors propose a measure of aesthetic preferences, not aesthetic sensitivity
The authors themselves acknowledge that their construct be defined as "the extent to
which a given feature influences someone’s liking or preference”. But this is really a
rephrasing of one’s preference for an aesthetic feature. The problem is that several aesthetic
preference tests – such as the Barron-Welsh Figure Preference Test (1952) or the Preference
for Balance Test (Wilson & Chatterjee, 2005) – which, similarly, use stimuli that vary
according to a specific feature (e.g., balance) and record the examinee’s preference, have
been developed: they are simply called aesthetic preference tests. We would concede that the
term “aesthetic sensitivity” is vague enough to accommodate both approaches, but we do not
see the point of renaming the study of aesthetic preference – which is thus not new at all –
especially when it involves using a name already used for a now century-old (yet still vivid)
approach. Why not call this a “multidimensional aesthetic preference test” instead?
COMMENTARY ON CORRADI ET AL. (2019) 6
Aesthetic sensitivity has been studied as the ability to identify (consensually/expertly
defined) aesthetic value for over a century, is clearly conceptually defined, and is
incrementally overcoming its psychometric challenges. Corradi et al.’s work involves
manipulating aesthetic features of stimuli and the observation of individual preference: it
should therefore be regarded as an aesthetic preference test. The two research interests are not
mutually exclusive and both merit scientific inquiry, but the authors’ approach should be
distinguished from aesthetic sensitivity, and is not the revolution that they claim.
COMMENTARY ON CORRADI ET AL. (2019) 7
Barron, F., & Welsh, G. S. (1952). Artistic Perception as a Possible Factor in Personality
Style: Its Measurement by a Figure Preference Test. The Journal of Psychology,
33(2), 199–203. https://doi.org/10.1080/00223980.1952.9712830
Chan, J., Eysenck, H. J., & Götz, K. O. (1980). A new Visual Aesthetic Sensitivity Test: III.
Crosscultural comparison between Hong Kong children and adults, and English and
Japanese samples. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 50(3, Pt 2), 1325–1326.
Child, I. L. (1964). Observations on the Meaning of Some Measures of Esthetic Sensitivity.
The Journal of Psychology, 57(1), 49–64.
Corradi, G., Chuquichambi, E. G., Barrada, J. R., Clemente, A., & Nadal, M. (2019). A new
conception of visual aesthetic sensitivity. British Journal of Psychology.
Myszkowski, N., Çelik, P., & Storme, M. (2018). A meta-analysis of the relationship between
intelligence and visual “taste” measures. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the
Arts, 12(1), 24–33. https://doi.org/10.1037/aca0000099
Myszkowski, N., & Storme, M. (2017). Measuring “Good Taste” with the Visual Aesthetic
Sensitivity Test-Revised (VAST-R). Personality and Individual Differences, 117, 91–
Summerfeldt, L. J., Gilbert, S. J., & Reynolds, M. (2015). Incompleteness, aesthetic
sensitivity, and the obsessive-compulsive need for symmetry. Journal of Behavior
Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 49, Part B, 141–149.
Thorndike, E. L. (1916). Tests of esthetic appreciation. Journal of Educational Psychology,
COMMENTARY ON CORRADI ET AL. (2019) 8
Wilson, A., & Chatterjee, A. (2005). The assessment of preference for balance: Introducing a
new test. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 23(2), 165–180.