The intrinsic variance of beauty judgment

Maria Pombo, Aenne A. Brielmann, Denis G. Pelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recall memory and sequential dependence threaten the independence of successive beauty ratings. Such independence is usually assumed when using repeated measures to estimate the intrinsic variance of a rating. We call “intrinsic” the variance of all possible responses that the participant could give on a trial. Variance arises within and across participants. In attributing the measured variance to sources, the first step is to assess how much is intrinsic. In seven experiments, we measure how much of the variability across beauty ratings can be attributed to recall memory and sequential dependence. With a set size of one, memory is a problem and contributes half the measured variance. However, we showed that for both beauty and ellipticity, with set size of nine or more, recall memory causes a mere 10% increase in the variance of repeated ratings. Moreover, we showed that as long as the stimuli are diverse (i.e., represent different object categories), sequential dependence does not affect the variance of beauty ratings. Lastly, the variance of beauty ratings increases in proportion to the 0.15 power of stimulus set size. We show that the beauty rating of a stimulus in a diverse set is affected by the stimulus set size and not the value of other stimuli. Overall, we conclude that the variance of repeated ratings is a good way to estimate the intrinsic variance of a beauty rating of a stimulus in a diverse set.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1355-1373
Number of pages19
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2023


  • Aesthetics
  • Intrinsic variability
  • Recall memory
  • Repeated measures
  • Sequential dependence
  • Subjective beauty judgments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sensory Systems
  • Linguistics and Language


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