Feeling Blue? You Might Appreciate Beauty More

Humans find beautiful things pleasurable. But, surprisingly, beauty is not the only thing that gives us pleasure. A variety of factors could influence whether we find a person good looking or whether we like a painting in the gallery. We make aesthetic judgments about many aspects of our daily life, yet most of these occur at a sub-conscious level. We know we like it, but have no reason why.

A study traces the emotional roots of beauty

It is found that often, our own emotions play a crucial role in our experience of art, in addition to the artistic content itself. Scientists have attempted to tease out the type of emotions that influence our perception of beauty and how they do so. In a recent study, 40 participants were shown a mixture of emotionally charged pictures that would prime them based on the type of emotion depicted. Pictures were divided into 2 categories: pictures with negative emotions and positive emotions. Additionally, scrambled versions of emotionally neutral pictures were used as controls. At the end of the priming, participants were shown a target or test picture; the test pictures were abstract images or pictures of the human body. At the end of the test, the participants had to rank a) the beauty of the target image on a scale ranging from ugly to beautiful and b) the intensity of the emotion they felt looking at the target image. The results were then quantified to see whether the primed emotion had any influence on the perception of beauty in the abstract and body images.

Negative emotions help you find beauty in things

In a nutshell, emotional priming had a major effect on perceived beauty of the images. However, priming with negative emotions had the unexpected result of increasing the perception of beauty of both body images and abstract pictures. On the other hand ‘happy’ priming pictures had a negative effect on beauty rankings.

Though this might seem difficult to wrap your head around, scientists call this the “rebound effect”, whereby an attempt to stop a specific emotion leads to the enhancement of the emotion itself. So, in short, when you stop being happy, you open yourself to find something more beautiful and sublime.

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