Fundamental concepts of aesthetics

Aesthetics is about subtle distinctions and ever new variations, trends and fashions. At the same time, reflections on aesthetic virtues and values keep revisiting the (seemingly) same questions, most notably this one: What is beauty? What are its effects? How can we conceptualize its power and its downsides?

No other concept is as central to aesthetics as that of beauty. At the same time, a small number of other terms have also repeatedly served as key anchor points for reflections on aesthetics: the sublime, wonder, the ugly, elegance, and, since the late 19th century, kitsch.

Employing a wide variety of empirical methods, the projects in this research area are dedicated to elucidating these fundamental concepts of aesthetic virtues and vices.

Current Projects

In a series of studies, we analyze the cognitive, affective and aesthetic dimensions of experiencing beauty throughout different modalities (visual, auditive aesthetics) and domains (nature, the individual arts, fashion, and others).


Based on Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of „flow“ (1972), we conduct a series of studies on textual variables and readers’ characteristics, which, in their interaction, increase the likelihood of intensely pleasurable reading states.


This project focuses on the cognitive and affective implications of elegance, the range of phenomena that have the potential to be elegant, and the aesthetic and phenomenological qualia of (experiencing) elegance. Moreover, it investigates similarities and differences of elegance compared to grace, beauty, and sexiness.


The notion of "trash" serves as a label to describe badly and cheaply made films (often deliberately so), which routinely combine graphic depictions of extreme violence with misogynistic representations of sex.



Menninghaus, W., Wagner, V., Wassiliwizky, E., Jacobsen, T., & Knoop, C. A. (2017). The emotional and aesthetic powers of parallelistic diction. Poetics, 63, 47-59.  doi:10.1016/j.poetic.2016.12.001

Menninghaus, W. (2016).  Caprices of fashion in culture and biology: Charles Darwin’s aesthetics of "ornament". In Giovanni Matteucci & Stefano Marino (Eds.), Philosophical Perspectives on Fashion (pp. 137-150). London, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Sarkhosh, K., & Menninghaus, W. (2016). Enjoying trash films: Underlying features, viewing stances, and experiential response dimensions. Poetics, 57, 40-54.  doi:10.1016/j.poetic.2016.04.002

Menninghaus, W. (2016). Disgusto. Teoria e storia di una sensazione forte. Milano: Mimesis.

Knoop, C. A., Wagner, V., Jacobsen, T., & Menninghaus, W. (2016). Mapping the aesthetic space of literature from "below". Poetics, 56, 35-49. doi:10.1016/j.poetic.2016.02.001

Menninghaus W., Bohrn I., Knoop C., Kotz S., Schlotz W., Jacobs A. (2015). Rhetorical features facilitate prosodic processing while handicapping ease of semantic comprehension. Cognition, 143, 48-60. doi.10.1016/j.cognition.2015.05.026.

Menninghaus W. (2014). A cosa serve l’arte? L’estetica dopo Darwin. Verona: Fiorini.

Sarkhosh, K. (2014). "Sick, sick, sick"? Pornography, Disgust, and the Limit Values of Aesthetics. In P. Ferstl & K. Sarkhosh (Eds.), Quote Double Quote. Aesthetics between High and Popular Culture (pp. 99-120). Amsterdam: Rodopi.