The primacy of beauty in judging the aesthetics of objects

Psychol Rep. 2004 Jun;94(3 Pt 2):1253-60. doi: 10.2466/pr0.94.3c.1253-1260.


The conceptual structure of the aesthetics of objects was investigated. To this end, associative namings for the word "aesthetics" were collected from 311 nonartist German college students in a timed verbal association task. 590 different adjectives were produced, depicting diversification of the concept. The adjective "beautiful" was given by more than 90% of the participants. The adjective "ugly" was the second most frequent naming, used by almost half of the students. All other namings were markedly less frequently produced. It is argues that the beautiful-ugly dimension represents the primary concept in the aesthetics of objects, so that performing aesthetic judgments of the beauty of objects comes naturally to individuals. In other words, the most prototypical aesthetic judgments are those of beauty. Furthermore, the majority of generated words had a positive valence as measured by an additional valence-rating study including 41 participants. This result contrasts with comparable studies of emotion terms, as such studies typically show a negativity bias. Frequency in general language use and valence of the adjectives did not account for the results.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Beauty*
  • Esthetics*
  • Female
  • Form Perception*
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Male
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Semantics*
  • Students / psychology