The Eyes as the Window to the Soul : Do Fluency-based Aesthetic Appreciation and Oculomotor Events go Hand in Hand?

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2021
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A common thread in many frameworks of how aesthetic appreciations are formed when observing media is that stimuli that are easier to process are liked. This may influence how we approach media, e.g. by affecting our eye movements. While evidence shows that processing ease indeed leads to greater aesthetic liking, research on how these go hand in hand with oculomotor events is limited. The three research papers of this dissertation aimed to understand how fluency and liking affect pupillary responses using different types of stimuli and tasks. Further, I was interested in whether fluency-based liking shapes viewing strategies with the background of two boundary conditions to processing fluency, expertise and time pressure.

In Research Paper 1, my coauthors and I aimed to replicate Kuchinke, Trapp, Jacobs, and Leder’s (2009) finding that pupils dilate more strongly to easier to process, i.e. less abstract, cubist paintings that were more liked, by employing an improved experimental design. We attempted to generalize results to the expressionist art style. Liking ratings were conducted and a content detection task was employed while pupillary dilations were recorded. One of the key findings was that dilations for cubists could not be replicated, while pupils dilated more strongly to easier to process expressionists. Crucially, while easier paintings were liked over difficult ones for both art styles, there was no link between aesthetic liking and pupillometric response when analyzing each art style individually. Dilations were greater for the least liked paintings when art style was ignored. Thus, Research Paper 1 does not allow for the conclusion that fluency-based aesthetic liking is reflected in pupil dilations.

Stronger dilations to easier to process paintings are striking since a great body of research on cognitive load suggest pupillary response should be stronger for difficult stimuli or tasks. In Research Paper 2, my coauthors and I reevaluated pupil responses with two different types of stimuli (symmetry/asymmetric dot clouds versus cubist and cubist/expressionist paintings) and tasks (categorization versus content detection). Fluency was either defined as grade of symmetry or abstractness of the paintings. Pupils dilated more strongly for harder to process asymmetric clouds and expressionists that were more abstract. Dilations were also amplified with increasing difficulty and decreasing liking for dot clouds and expressionists. Again, we failed to replicate results for the cubists. While at first it seems that pupil dilations indicate dislike, it is likely that these results fall in line with the literature on cognitive load and rather reflect task difficulty when fluency is involved as a background mechanism in aesthetic appreciation.

Research Paper 3 explored how eye movement parameters such as fixations, saccades and scanpaths go hand in hand with fluency-based aesthetic liking of paintings, expertise and time pressure in a free viewing paradigm. While liking decreased with abstractness regardless of expertise and was greater for experts in general, how much time volunteers had to view the paintings did not matter for liking. This suggests that aesthetic liking is developed early in processing and not overwritten by later elaborations independent of expertise. Interestingly, experts and novices were also remarkably similar in using more local gaze strategies and fluency was only relevant for viewing under time pressure. Instead, eye movements reflected a maximization of how much information viewers could take in when time was limited. Lastly, liking and eye movement measures did not correlate indicating that liking may not stem from how participants look at pictures but from other underlying thought processes.

In conclusion, this thesis highlights five important results. First, the research papers replicate processing fluency’s impact on liking. Second, pupillary response does not always stem from aesthetic liking but may be overwritten by task difficulty. Third, time allocated to viewing is generally more important in shaping eye movements than fluency. Forth, experts and novices are remarkable alike in both their aesthetic response to fluency and their viewing strategy. Lastly, eye movements seem to be irrelevant for shaping aesthetic appreciation.

Zusammenfassung in einer weiteren Sprache
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150 Psychologie
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processing fluency, aesthetics, eye tracking, eye movements, pupillometry, cognitive load
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ISO 690ELSCHNER, Sophie G., 2021. The Eyes as the Window to the Soul : Do Fluency-based Aesthetic Appreciation and Oculomotor Events go Hand in Hand? [Dissertation]. Konstanz: University of Konstanz
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  year={2021},
  title={The Eyes as the Window to the Soul : Do Fluency-based Aesthetic Appreciation and Oculomotor Events go Hand in Hand?},
  author={Elschner, Sophie G.},
  address={Konstanz},
  school={Universität Konstanz}
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Konstanz, Univ., Diss., 2021
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