We evaluate two competing accounts of the relationship between beauty and category structure. According to the similarity-based view, beauty arises from category structure such that central items are favored due to their increased fluency. In contrast, the theory-based view holds that people's theories of beauty shape their perceptions of categories. In the present study, subjects learned to categorize abstract paintings into meaningfully labeled categories and rated the paintings' beauty, value, and typicality. Inconsistent with the similarity-based view, beauty ratings were highly correlated across conditions despite differences in fluency and assigned category structure. Consistent with the theory-based view, beautiful paintings were treated as central members for categories expected to contain beautiful paintings (e.g., art museum pieces), but not in others (e.g., student show pieces). These results suggest that the beauty of complex, real-world stimuli is not determined by fluency within category structure but, instead, interacts with people's prior knowledge to structure categories.
- Aesthetic preferences
- Halo effect