Aesthetic Emotions

Kant defined aesthetic emotions ("ästhetische Gefühle") as intuitive appreciations of various kinds of aesthetic appeals throughout nature and culture. In the philosophy and psychology of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, the term "aesthetic emotion" has been redefined numerous times. Still, the construct remains highly disputed, and empirical research on aesthetic emotions is scarce. The focus of our Research Area B is threefold:


1. Defining the construct of "aesthetic emotions" and developing a scale for measuring them

In a series of studies we aim at refining the definition of the construct and developing a comprehensive scale to capture aesthetic emotions. We test this scale in field studies and investigate select aesthetic emotions in greater detail.


2. What does it mean to be "moved", "touched", or "shattered" by a speech or an artwork?

Until recently, scientific psychology has made very little effort to understand the emotional states of "being moved", "touched", and "shattered", despite their long tradition at the center of poetics and rhetoric. Our studies are devoted to establishing these emotion terms as psychological constructs, and to investigating their specific role in aesthetic experiences and evaluations. Case studies on films and poems analyze behavioral, physiological and neuronal correlates of these emotions.


3. The enjoyment of negative emotions in the arts

Compared to the vast philosophical debate – dating back to Aristotle’s theory of tragedy – on the enjoyment of negative emotions in the arts, empirical research on the issue is fairly limited in both quantity and range, with studies on horror films being the only exception to this rule. Our project line focuses on art-elicited states of sadness, disgust, and anger, and on the horror dimension of trash movies. The overarching goal of our work in this field is to develop – based on reviewing available empirical evidence both from our own case studies and the existing literature – a comprehensive theoretical account of the enjoyment associated with negative emotions in the arts.


Current Projects

Entwicklung ästhetischer Gefühle

In diesem Projekt wird unsere Forschung zu ästhetischen Gefühlen um einen entwicklungspsychologischen Aspekt erweitert: Wie entwickelt sich das Erleben ästhetischer Gefühle im Laufe der Kindheit und des Jugendalters?



Several studies have shown that emotional goosebumps are tightly related to episodes of being moved/touched. But what about other emotions?


Shivers down the spine in poetry and music

The wise reader reads the book of genius not with his heart, not so much with his brain, but with his spine.                                                                                                                                                                                      — Vladimir Nabokov

In this study, we compare the physiological and neural correlates of music- and poetry-induced chills/goosebumps.


Neural and physiological correlates of "being moved"

The research project focuses on neural and physiological correlates of being emotionally moved. In several studies, we look at the activity of several prominent physiological signals, such as facial muscle activity, skin conductance, heart activity and the BOLD signal, while participants listen to moving poems or watch their favorite film scenes. To identify this complex emotional state of feeling moved, we use two objectively measurable physiological markers: goose bumps and tears.


Defining "aesthetic emotions"

The projects is devoted to reviewing the philosophical and psychological research on "aesthetic emotions". Its objective is to cover the topic in a major theoretical review paper and to develop a multi-dimensional model of "aesthetic emotions".


The Feel-Good Movie: Its generic outlines and its emotional impact

In film criticism, the notion of the "feel-good film" mainly serves as an evaluative term which bears both positive and negative connotations depending on the supposed legitimacy of the films' affective and emotional effect.


Developing an "Aesthetic Emotions Scale" (AESTHEMOS)

A theoretical construct of "Aesthetic Emotions" is useful for empirical research only to the extent that methods for measuring actually felt aesthetic emotions are developed. The project undertakes this effort: it develops highly nuanced scales for self-report measures of aesthetic emotions, and validates these scales both by a variety of statistical means and by multiple field studies.


Can you dance your emotion? Yes, you can!

Dance Your Emotion is an international team of researchers from various disciplines including psychology, neuroscience, dance, filmmaking, computer science and anthropology.



Menninghaus, W., Wagner, V., Wassiliwizky, E., Schindler, I., Hanich, J., Jacobsen, T., & Koelsch, S. (2019). What are aesthetic emotions? Psychological Review, 126 (2), 171–195.  doi:10.1037/rev0000135

Schindler, I., Hosoya, G., Menninghaus, W., Beermann, U., Wagner, V., Eid, M., & Scherer, K. R. (2017). Measuring aesthetic emotions: A review of the literature and a new assessment tool. Plos One, 12(6), e0178899. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0178899   PDF    

Wassiliwizky, E., Jacobsen, T., Heinrich, J., Schneiderbauer, M., & Menninghaus, W. (2017). Tears Falling on Goosebumps: Co-occurrence of Emotional Lacrimation and Emotional Piloerection Indicates a Psychophysiological Climax in Emotional Arousal. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(41). doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00041

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

Kraxenberger, M., & Menninghaus, W. (2017). Affinity for Poetry and Aesthetic Appreciation of Joyful and Sad Poems. Frontiers in Psychology, 7:2051. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.02051

Kraxenberger, M., & Menninghaus, W. (2016). Emotional effects of poetic phonology, word positioning and dominant stress peaks in poetry reading. Scientific Study of Literature, 6(2), 298–313.  doi:10.1075/ssol.6.2.06kra

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

Wagner, V., Klein, J., Hanich, J., Shah, M., Menninghaus, W., & Jacobsen, T. (2016). Anger Framed: A Field Study on Emotion, Pleasure, and Art. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 10(2), 134–146.  doi:10.1037/aca0000029

Wassiliwizky, E., Wagner, V., Jacobsen, T., & Menninghaus, W. (2015). Art-elicited chills indicate states of being moved. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 9(4), 405–416. doi:10.1037/aca0000023

Menninghaus, W., Wagner, V., Hanich, J., Wassiliwizky, E., Kuehnast, M., & Jacobsen, T. (2015). Towards a Psychological Construct of Being Moved. Plos One, 10(6), e0128451. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0128451

Kumschick, I. R., Beck, L., Eid, M., Witte, G., Klann-Delius, G., Heuser, I., Steinlein, R., & Menninghaus, W. (2014). READING and FEELING: The effects of a literature-based intervention designed to increase emotional competence in second and third graders. Frontiers in Psycholology, 5:1448.   doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01448.

Kuijpers, M. M., Hakemulder, F., Doicaru, M., Tan, E. (2014) Exploring absorbing reading experiences: Developing and validating a self-report scale to measure story world absorption. Scientific Study of Literature, 4 (1), 89–122.

Wagner, V., Menninghaus, W., Hanich, J., & Jacobsen, T. (2014). Art schema effects on affective experience: The case of disgusting images. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 8(2), 120–129. doi:10.1037/a0036126

Sarkhosh, K. & Ferstl, P. (2014). Introduction: Popular Culture in the Field of "Undercomplexity" and "Imbalanced Coding". In P. Ferstl & K. Sarkhosh (Eds.), Quote Double Quote. Aesthetics between High and Popular Culture (pp. 7–21). Amsterdam: Rodopi.

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.

Kuehnast, M., Wagner, V., Wassiliwizky, E., Jacobsen, T., & Menninghaus, W. (2014). Being Moved: Linguistic Representation and Conceptual Structure. Frontiers in Psychology, 5:1242.    doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01242        PDF