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An Empirical Aesthetics of the Sublime and Beautiful

Hur, Young-Jin; (2020) An Empirical Aesthetics of the Sublime and Beautiful. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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The sublime and the beautiful are two of the oldest, most discussed categories of aesthetic experience. In their most basic of descriptions, the sublime refers to an aesthetic experience of fear and delight, and the beautiful refers to an aesthetic experience of pure pleasure. This thesis explores them empirically, theoretically informed by Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful of 1759. Three questions are asked: (1) What are the physical characteristics of objects considered sublime, particularly size, height, colour, brightness, and contrast in photographs, and modality, style, and tempo in piano music? (2) What are the emotional characteristics of sublime experiences, especially in relation to fear? and (3) What is the relationship between judgements of the sublime and beautiful in various contexts? In 15 separate studies involving 768 participants, sublimity and beauty are related but separate experiences with distinct visual and auditory mechanisms. For images, although subjective sublimity and beauty ratings of images often show moderate correlations, sublimity is more influenced by presentation size than is beauty, while beauty is relatively more sensitive towards the presence of colour, and sublimity and beauty are both increased by higher presentation of images. Although subjective sublimity often correlates with subjective fear – a finding replicated in various studies and tasks – there is no evidence that physiological correlates of fear measured by skin conductance responses (SCR) and facial electromyography (fEMG) are activated at the same time as subjective sublimity. Together, these findings show that the associations of sublimity with size, height, and fear which are found in various cultures and languages, and especially in Burke’s text, are realistic. Methodologically, the studies’s use of large number of stimuli and participants makes the findings generalisable, which is often not always the case in the literature of empirical aesthetics. In conclusion, sublimity is an important and separate component of aesthetic experience, beyond the mere study of beauty alone, which merits further study in aesthetic science.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: An Empirical Aesthetics of the Sublime and Beautiful
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2020. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10091352
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