The Aesthetic Self. The Importance of Aesthetic Taste in Music and Art for Our Perceived Identity

Frontiers in Psychology 11 (2021)
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To what extent do aesthetic taste and our interest in the arts constitute who we are? In this paper, we present a series of empirical findings that suggest an Aesthetic Self Effect supporting the claim that our aesthetic engagements are a central component of our identity. Counterfactual changes in aesthetic preferences, for example, moving from liking classical music to liking pop, are perceived as altering us as a person. The Aesthetic Self Effect is as strong as the impact of moral changes, such as altering political partisanship or religious orientation, and significantly stronger than for other categories of taste, such as food preferences. Using a multidimensional scaling technique to map perceived aesthetic similarities among musical genres, we determined that aesthetic distances between genres correlate highly with the perceived difference in identity. Further studies generalize the Aesthetic Self Effect beyond the musical domain: general changes in visual art preferences, for example from more traditional to abstract art, also elicited a strong Self Effect. Exploring the breadth of this effect we also found an Anaesthetic Self Effect. That is, hypothetical changes from aesthetic indifference to caring about music, art, or beauty are judged to have a significant impact on identity. This effect on identity is stronger for aesthetic fields compared to leisure activities, such as hiking or playing video games. Across our studies, the Anaesthetic Self Effect turns out to be stronger than the Aesthetic Self Effect. Taken together, we found evidence for a link between aesthetics and identity: we are aesthetic selves. When our tastes in music and the arts or our aesthetic interests change we take these to be transformative changes.



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Author Profiles

Joerg Fingerhut
Humboldt-University, Berlin
Javier Gomez-Lavin
Purdue University
Jesse J. Prinz
CUNY Graduate Center

Citations of this work

Truly, Madly, Deeply: Moral Beauty & the Self.Ryan P. Doran - forthcoming - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy.
Aesthetic Testimony and Aesthetic Authenticity.Felix Bräuer - 2023 - British Journal of Aesthetics 63 (3):395–416.
The Aesthetic Enkratic Principle.Irene Martínez Marín - 2023 - British Journal of Aesthetics 63 (2):251–268.
Experimental philosophy of aesthetics.Florian Cova - forthcoming - In Max Bauer & Stephan Kornmesser (eds.), Compact compendium of experimental philosophy. De Gruyter.

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Being for Beauty: Aesthetic Agency and Value.Dominic Lopes - 2018 - Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
The essential moral self.Nina Strohminger & Shaun Nichols - 2014 - Cognition 131 (1):159-171.

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