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Concreteness of semantic interpretations of abstract and representational artworksThe authors tested two contrasting theoretical predictions to establish whether semantic interpretations of abstract artworks had different lexical concreteness from those of representational artworks. In Experiment 1, 49 non-expert participants provided brief verbal interpretations of 20 abstract and 20 representational artworks. Frequentist and Bayesian Linear Mixed Models showed that the words’ concreteness levels were robustly higher for interpretations of abstract artworks than representational artworks. This difference was present regardless of the inclusion or exclusion of function words. Potential diluting or inflating impacts on the effect due to the multi-word responses were examined in Experiment 2, in which 72 new participants provided single-word interpretations for the same artworks. The effect replicated with a larger effect size. The findings suggest that non-expert viewers prioritise establishing what is depicted over seeking deeper meanings if the depicted is not readily established perceptually. The findings are incompatible with the theoretical stance that abstract art has abstract meaning. Instead, the findings are consistent with complex models of aesthetic processing in which meaning may emerge in stages. The effect of art type on the concreteness of meaning is an important, hitherto undiscovered basic finding in empirical aesthetics. Our novel methods enable further research in this field.
Looking behaviour and preference for artworks: The role of emotional valence and locationThe position of an item influences its evaluation, with research consistently finding that items occupying central locations are preferred and have a higher subjective value. The current study investigated whether this centre-stage effect (CSE) is a result of bottom-up gaze allocation to the central item, and whether it is affected by item valence. Participants (n=50) were presented with three images of artistic paintings in a row and asked to choose the image they preferred. Eye movements were recorded for a subset of participants (n=22). On each trial the three artworks were either similar but different, or were identical and with positive valence, or were identical and with negative valence. The results showed a centre-stage effect, with artworks in the centre of the row preferred, but only when they were identical and of positive valence. Significantly greater gaze allocation to the central and left artwork was not mirrored by equivalent increases in preference choices. Regression analyses showed that when the artworks were positive and identical the participants’ last fixation predicted preference for the central art-work, whereas the fixation duration predicted preference if the images were different. Overall the result showed that item valence, rather than level of gaze allocation, influences the CSE, which is incompatible with the bottom-up gaze explanation. We propose that the centre stage heuristic, which specifies that the best items are in the middle, is able to explain these findings and the centre-stage effect.