Aesthetic modulation of affective valence. The pleasure taken in disgust, anger and sadness in aesthetic experience (205)

Art often manages that otherwise negative emotions become part of a pleasant experience. The interdisciplinary project tries to collect evidence to this seemingly paradoxical phenomenon via psychological experiments.

Why do viewers enjoy disgusting moments in horror movies? Where does the pleasure taken in sad melodramas come from? How is it possible that the aesthetic context of a theatrical performance can even turn anger into an agreeable emotion? In short, why do we often enjoy negative emotions in aesthetic experiences? Our interdisciplinary research project investigates these seemingly paradoxical questions.

In a number of psychological experiments we will provide empirical evidence for the so-called "aesthetic modulation of affective valence" – that is, the fact that under aesthetic circumstances otherwise negative emotions like disgust, sadness and anger can become part of a pleasurable experience. Our study focuses on such diverse artistic practices as photography, film, theater performance and art installation. We do not only take behavioral and physiological measures via questionnaires and peripheral physiological measurements, but also use neuroscientific methods such as fMRI.

By bringing together our experimental results with the elaborate debate in the humanities (especially in the disciplines of poetics and aesthetics with their tradition from Greek antiquity to the present) we try to solve the paradoxical pleasure taken in negative emotions in aesthetic experience. We assume that our findings can provide important impulses for the current philosophical and psychological discussions about "aesthetic emotions".


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