Beauty at a glance: The feeling of beauty and the amplitude of pleasure are independent of stimulus duration

Aenne A. Brielmann, Lauren Vale, Denis G. Pelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over time, how does beauty develop and decay? Common sense suggests that beauty is intensely felt only after prolonged experience of the object. Here, we present one of various stimuli for a variable duration (1- 30 s), measure the observers' pleasure over time, and, finally, ask whether they felt beauty. On each trial, participants (N = 21) either see an image that they had chosen as ''movingly beautiful,'' see an image with prerated valence, or suck a candy. During the stimulus and a further 60 s, participants rate pleasure continuously using a custom touchscreen web app, After each trial, participants judge whether they felt beauty. Across all stimulus kinds, durations, and beauty responses, the dynamic pleasure rating has a stereotypical time course that is well fit by a one-parameter model with a brief exponential onset (roughly 2.5 s), a sustained plateau during stimulus presentation, and a long exponential decay (roughly 70 s). Across conditions, only the plateau amplitude varies. Beauty and pleasure amplitude are nearly independent of stimulus duration. The final beauty rating is positively correlated with pleasure amplitude (r=0.60), and nearly independent of duration (r = 0.10). Beauty's independence from duration is unlike Bentham's 18thcentury notion of value (utility), which he supposed to depend on the product of pleasure amplitude and duration. Participants report having felt pleasure as strongly after a mere 1 s stimulus as after longer durations, up to 30 s. Thus, we find that amplitude of pleasure is independent of stimulus duration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number9
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number14
StatePublished - 2017


  • Aesthetics
  • Beauty
  • Pleasure
  • Stimulus duration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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