Love It or Hate It?
A team of cognitive neuroscientists at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics designed a new method to capture fluctuations in felt enjoyment when people watch videos. The study was published in the journal PLOS One.
In their study, the researchers asked two groups of participants to watch 30-second long artistic video clips of natural landscapes and dance performances in order to characterize the mental processes that are engaged by aesthetic experiences. While both groups of participants gave an overall aesthetic evaluation of the experience, only the first group continuously evaluated their aesthetic enjoyment using a handheld dial.
The team found that the moment-to-moment assessments showed very different patterns across participants, even when watching the same video clips. There were moments at which some participants increased their ratings, but other participants decreased their ratings. In addition, some participants appeared very sensitive to quick changes in the videos, turning their dial frequently, while others did not respond to such fast changes. Edward Vessel, senior author on the paper, explains:
“Despite the fact that everyone watched the same videos, the degree to which we observed fast changes in enjoyment was more determined by who was watching than by which clip they were watching,”
The team also found that the continuous rating task did not appear to interfere with the observers’ aesthetic experiences.
“Our personal experiences with the visual world, such as dance, nature, or even artwork unfold over time, but most of our understanding of such experiences comes from studies using still images of paintings or landscapes and that collect a single response,”
summarizes Ayse Ilkay Isik, lead author on the paper. She believes that collecting moment-to-moment ratings and developing methods to characterize these responses will help us better understand the mental processes that support such experiences, and why different people can have drastically different opinions about a performance’s aesthetic value. The authors believe that the methodology they developed can be also used to characterize other types of experiences that unfold in time, such as emotions or pain. In future work, the team hopes to use these methods to relate moment-to-moment enjoyment to communication across brain systems.
Isik, A. E., & Vessel, E. A. (2019) Continuous Ratings of Movie Watching Reveal Idiosyncratic Dynamics of Aesthetic Enjoyment. PLOS One, 14(10): e0223896. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0223896