Behavioral Functions of Aesthetics: Science and Art, Reason, and Emotion

The Psychological Record 68 (1) (2019)
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In his landmark article for this journal, Francis Mechner (2018) presents a novel analysis of the confluence of unique combinations of variables accounting for aesthetic experiences, a phenomenon he calls synergetics. He proposes that artists, musicians, and writers use novel devices to capitalize on those effects. In my response to Mechner's fascinating article, I question the generality of such synergetic experiences to a wide array of audience members. I also question whether the evolutionary basis for aesthetic creativity accounts for the ubiquity of aesthetic activity, as Mechner suggests. I do share Mechner’s emphasis on the importance of culturally nesting aesthetic contributions. But I suggest understanding aesthetic activities across cultures and subcultures requires additional mechanisms serving important bridging functions. I explore dispositional analysis, drawing on both Wittgenstein’s aesthetic language games and derived stimulus relationships. The behavioral functions of aesthetic experiences are those playing roles in cultural contingencies: motivational events, antecedent stimulus events, and consequences of aesthetic activities. Two kinds of aesthetic responses are discussed: 1) aesthetic creative responses by artists, writers or musicians, and 2) responses of audience members to those creations. These resulting aesthetic stimuli may play critical roles in cultural metacontingencies.
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