12. April 2018

Eye movements reveal the aesthetic appeal of sentences

Experimentally modifying levels of familiarity as well as presence vs. absence of meter in sentences of the proverb type, our study shows that both fixation durations of eye-movements and pupil dilations are modulated dependent on how aesthetically appealing readers perceive these sentences to be.

Aesthetic appeal was determined by subjective ratings for a cognitive factor (comprising “succinctness” and “familiarity” ratings) and an affective factor (comprising ‘‘beauty’’ and ‘‘liking’’ ratings). A higher cognitive factor predicts shorter dwelling time and smaller pupil dilation, whereas a higher affective factor is predictive of larger pupil dilation. The aesthetically most appealing sentences show high ratings for both factors and hence antagonistic pupillary effects in interaction. We explain the antagonistic effects of the experimentally modified variables on the eye-tracking parameters by reference to a theoretical model of poetic and rhetorical language processing (Menninghaus et al., 2015 Cognition). The model stipulates a complex and nonlinear interaction of reduced semantic processing fluency (due to unusual word forms and syntactic order that often come on the heels of implementing poetic and rhetorical features), enhanced prosodic processing fluency and overall aesthetic appreciation.

Previous eye -racking studies had already investigated eye-movement correlates of the aesthetic perception and evaluation of paintings and music. Our study is the first to show that the eye-tracking method is likewise useful for providing an objective and convenient measure capable of capturing the aesthetic appeal of language.

The study was published in the Journal of Vision––Hideyuki, H. & Menninghaus, W. (2018). The eye tracks the aesthetic appeal of sentences. Journal of Vision, 18(3):19––and is available as an Open Access publication at the link below.



Original Publication

Hoshi, H., & Menninghaus, W. (2018). The eye tracks the aesthetic appeal of sentences. Journal of Vision, 18(3), 1–22.Doi: 10.1167/18.3.19


Hideyuki Hoshi

Department of Language and Literature, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Frankfurt/Main

Email: hideyuki.hoshi@ae.mpg.de