Many philosophers and psychologists have made claims about what is felt in an experience of beauty. Here, we test how well these claims match the feelings that people report while looking at an image, or listening to music, or recalling a personal experience of beauty. We conducted ten experiments (total n = 851) spanning three nations (US, UK, and India). Across nations and modalities, top-rated beauty experiences are strongly characterized by six dimensions: intense pleasure, an impression of universality, the wish to continue the experience, exceeding expectation, perceived harmony in variety, and meaningfulness. Other frequently proposed beauty characteristics — like surprise, desire to understand, and mind wandering — are uncorrelated with feeling beauty. A typical remembered beautiful experience was active and social like a family holiday — hardly ever mentioning beauty — and only rarely mentioned art, unlike the academic emphasis, in aesthetics, on solitary viewing of art. Our survey aligns well with Kant and the psychological theories that emphasize pleasure, and reject theories that emphasize information seeking.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)