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Musical Aesthetic Sensitivity

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  • Ana Clemente, University of the Balearic Islands
  • ,
  • Marcus T. Pearce
  • Marcos Nadal, University of the Balearic Islands

Empirical aesthetics has mainly focused on general and simple relations between stimulus features and aesthetic appreciation. Consequently, to explain why people differ so much in what they like and prefer continues to be a challenge for the field. One possible reason is that people differ in their aesthetic sensitivity, that is, the extent to which they weigh certain stimulus features. Studies have shown that people vary substantially in their aesthetic sensitivities to visual balance, contour, symmetry, and complexity and that this variation explains why people like different things. Our goal here was to extend this line of research to music and examine aesthetic sensitivity to musical balance, contour, symmetry, and complexity. Forty-eight nonmusicians rated their liking for 96 4-s Western tonal musical motifs, arranged in four subsets varying in balance, contour, symmetry, or complexity. We used linear mixed-effects models to estimate individual differences in the extent to which each musical attribute determined their liking. The results showed that participants differed remarkably in the extent to which their liking was explained by musical balance, contour, symmetry, and complexity. Furthermore, a retest after 2 weeks showed that this measure of aesthetic sensitivity is reliable and suggests that aesthetic sensitivity is a stable personal trait. Finally, cluster analyses revealed that participants divided into two groups with different aesthetic sensitivity profiles, which were also largely stable over time. These results shed light on aesthetic sensitivity to musical content and are discussed in relation to comparable existing research in empirical aesthetics.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts
Pages (from-to)58-73
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2022

    Research areas

  • Aesthetic sensitivity, Aesthetics, Liking, Music, Sensory valuation

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