All is beautiful? Generality vs. specificity of word usage in visual aesthetics

Faculty/Professorship: General Psychology and Methodology  
Author(s): Augustin, M. Dorothee; Wagemans, Johan; Carbon, Claus-Christian  
Title of the Journal: Acta psychologica : international journal of psychonomics
ISSN: 0001-6918
Publisher Information: Amsterdam [u.a.] : Elsevier
Year of publication: 2012
Volume: 139
Issue: 1
Pages: 187-201 ; Diagramme
Language(s): English
DOI: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2011.10.004
A central problem in the literature on psychological aesthetics is a lack of precision in terminology regarding
the description and measurement of aesthetic impressions. The current research project approached the
problem of terminology empirically, by studying people's word usage to describe aesthetic impressions.
For eight different object classes that are relevant in visual aesthetics, including visual art, landscapes, faces
and different design classes, we examined which words people use to describe their aesthetic impressions,
and which general conceptual dimensions might underlie similarities and differences between the classes.
The results show an interplay between generality and specificity in aesthetic word usage. In line with results
by Jacobsen, Buchta, Kohler, and Schroger (2004) beautiful and ugly seem to be the words with most general
relevance, but in addition each object class has its own distinct pattern of relevant terms. Multidimensional
scaling and correspondence analysis suggest that the most extreme positions in aesthetic word usage for the
classes studied are taken by landscapes and geometric shapes and patterns. This research aims to develop a
language of aesthetics for the visual modality. Such a common vocabulary should facilitate the development of
cross-disciplinary models of aesthetics and create a basis for the construction of standardised aesthetic
Keywords: Empirical aesthetics
Peer Reviewed: Ja
International Distribution: Ja
Type: Article
Year of publication: 21. January 2013