Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

Acta Psychol (Amst). 2019 Aug;199:102881. doi: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2019.102881

Contextual and social variables modulate aesthetic appreciation of bodily and abstract art stimuli

Despite the increasing interest in the plasticity of aesthetic appreciation, we know comparatively little about the role of individuals' cultural (e.g. the appreciators' expertise) and of social emotional-cognitive (e.g. the social influence of people perceived as warm or competent) variables in modulating the appreciation process. In two experiments we investigated 1) whether people with different art-expertise are influenced differently by contextual (i.e. stimuli primed as art) and social (i.e. stimuli rated as beautiful by art-critics) information and 2) whether acknowledging the judgment of a person perceived as warm or as competent has a different influence on individuals' aesthetic appreciation of art works. Warmth and competence are two social dimensions of fundamental importance for categorizing others as in-group or out-group (Fiske, Cuddy, Glick, & Xu, 2002). We found that insinuating that the observed works were pieces of art, highly appreciated by art critics, lead expert participants to judge the stimuli as more beautiful in comparison to when the very same stimuli were not preceded by any manipulation. Moreover, we found that both art-experts and non-experts rated the stimuli as more beautiful when they believed it to be highly appreciated by people perceived as warm vs people perceived as competent. These results provide novel information on the plasticity of aesthetics and pave the way to understanding how tastes and preferences in the domain of aesthetics can be influenced.

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