Stirring images: fear, not happiness or arousal, makes art more sublime

Emotion. 2012 Oct;12(5):1071-4. doi: 10.1037/a0027200. Epub 2012 Feb 6.


Which emotions underlie our positive experiences of art? Although recent evidence from neuroscience suggests that emotions play a critical role in art perception, no research to date has explored the extent to which specific emotional states affect aesthetic experiences or whether general physiological arousal is sufficient. Participants were assigned to one of five conditions-sitting normally, engaging in 15 or 30 jumping jacks, or viewing a happy or scary video-prior to rating abstract works of art. Only the fear condition resulted in significantly more positive judgments about the art. These striking findings provide the first evidence that fear uniquely inspires positively valenced aesthetic judgments. The results are discussed in the context of embodied cognition.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Arousal
  • Art*
  • Emotions*
  • Esthetics / psychology*
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Happiness
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Male