“Taste typicality” is a foundational and multi-modal dimension of ordinary aesthetic experience
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Aesthetic experience seems both regular and idiosyncratic. On one hand, there are powerful regularities in what we tend to find attractive versus unattractive (e.g., beaches versus mud puddles).1-4 On the other hand, our tastes also vary dramatically from person to person:5-8 what one of us finds beautiful, another might find distasteful. What is the nature of such differences? They may in part be arbitrary-e.g., reflecting specific past judgments (such as liking red towels over blue ones because they were once cheaper). However, they may also in part be systematic-reflecting deeper differences in perception and/or cognition. We assessed the systematicity of aesthetic taste by exploring its typicality for the first time across seeing and hearing. Observers rated the aesthetic appeal of ordinary scenes and objects (e.g., beaches, buildings, and books) and environmental sounds (e.g., doorbells, dripping, and dialtones). We then measured "taste typicality" (separately for each modality) in terms of the similarity between each individual's aesthetic preferences and the population's average. The data revealed two primary patterns. First, taste typicality was not arbitrary but rather was correlated to a moderate degree across seeing and hearing: people who have typical taste for images also tend to have typical taste for sounds. Second, taste typicality captured most of the explainable variance in people's impressions, showing that it is the primary dimension along which aesthetic tastes systematically vary.
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