Why Would We Judge Abstract Art More Positively When We Are Scared?

Given the results of our research, this is my best guess (until we conduct more studies): Fear is a uniquely powerful and gripping emotion. Part of its power is that it has the potential to consume a person’s psychological state in such a way that gives tremendous focus to the fear-inducing stimulus. This is similar to Edmund Burke’s description of a sublime experience as “that state of the soul in which all its motions are suspended … so entirely filled with its object.”

I think that both fear and sublime experiences evoke a similar psychological experience of awe, and in cases when stimuli are ambiguous (e.g., our abstract art stimuli), it can court observers to sublime judgments.

Kendall Eskine is a professor of psychology at Loyola University New Orleans.

Category: Q&A

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