Abstract

Höfel, L., & Jacobsen, T. (2007). Electrophysiological indices of processing aesthetics: Spontaneous or intentional processes? International Journal of Psychophysiology, 65(1), 20-31.

Electrophysiological indices of processing aesthetics: Spontaneous or intentional processes?

Processes underlying aesthetic appreciation of formal graphic black and white patterns were investigated. In previous EEG studies on aesthetic and symmetry judgments, an early frontocentral negativity has been observed for not beautiful judgments, and interpreted as reflecting an impression formation. In addition, a lateralized late positivity, more pronounced in the aesthetic than in the symmetry judgment task, has been interpreted as reflecting evaluative categorization; and a sustained posterior negativity for not symmetric judgments, has been interpreted as reflecting a prolonged symmetry analysis. Here, we investigated whether these processes occur spontaneously, i.e. independent of an aesthetics task instruction or a judgment task demand. Participants were randomly assigned to two group conditions. In the Viewing condition, participants were instructed to view graphic patterns, and to detect a probe. In the Contemplation condition, participants were instructed to contemplate the beauty of the patterns, and to detect a probe. No aesthetics-related response was required in either condition. ERP results suggest that symmetry analysis occurred spontaneously. Evaluative categorization, reflected by a late positivity, required an aesthetics instruction and did not occur spontaneously. This process was elicited without an overt aesthetic judgment. An early frontocentral negativity for not beautiful patterns, interpreted as reflecting impression formation, did not occur (in contrast to previous studies that required an overt aesthetic judgment). Given the present data, aesthetic appreciation of graphic patterns requires different sub-processes. Aesthetic contemplation is reflected by a lateralized late positivity, whilst an aesthetic judgment is additionally reflected by an early frontocentral negativity. Aesthetic appreciation of beauty appears to require intention and is not spontaneous in character.



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