Does the Phineas Gage Effect Extend to Aesthetic Value?

Philosophical Psychology (forthcoming)
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In the last twenty years, a large number of studies have investigated judgments of the identity of various objects (e.g., persons, material objects, institutions) over time. One influential strand of research has found that identity judgments are shaped by normative considerations. People tend to believe that moral improvement is more compatible with the continuity of identity of a person than moral deterioration, suggesting that persons are taken to be essentially morally good. This asymmetry is often referred to as the “Phineas Gage effect”. However, normativity extends beyond morality. In particular, it is unknown whether changes in aesthetic value have a similar impact on identity judgments. We investigate whether works of art would be analogously seen as essentially aesthetically valuable. We ran four studies (N=1264) to explore whether aesthetic considerations have a similar influence on judgments of the identity of artworks. We presented the participants with stories describing either a painting or a musical work which undergoes changes and becomes either more or less aesthetically valuable. Overall, we found only mixed evidence for the Phineas Gage effect in relation to the aesthetic value of artworks. Other factors, such as moral value, seem to have a bigger impact on judgments of persistence.

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