DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2022.0413 ISSN: 0962-8436

The aesthetic valve: how aesthetic appreciation may switch emotional states from anxiety to curiosity

Paolo Barbieri, Pietro Sarasso, Fabio Lodico, Alice Aliverti, Kou Murayama, Katiuscia Sacco, Irene Ronga
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology

Pursuing new knowledge in the entropic environment is pivotal for survival. However, dealing with uncertainty is a costly challenge for the agent surrounded by the stochastic sensory world, giving rise to different epistemic emotions, such as curiosity and anxiety. We recently proposed that aesthetic appreciation may have the role of associating pleasant feedback with the update of predictive representations. According to this idea, aesthetic appreciation and its associated rewarding feeling could drive people to seek new knowledge over anxiety. However, the relationship between aesthetic appreciation, curiosity, and anxiety has been still under-examined in the literature. Here, we explore the relationship between these epistemic emotions in a series of three experiments. In study 1, we examined whether music-induced aesthetic appreciation would influence curiosity in a gambling task. In studies 2a and 2b, we explore the relationship between music-induced aesthetic appreciation and anxiety state. Overall, aesthetic appreciation promoted curiosity-driven behaviour while it was negatively associated with anxiety. These results were consistent with the idea that aesthetic appreciation could act as a ‘valve’, prompting the individual to perceive curiosity (i.e. to consider novelty as a valuable opportunity to acquire new knowledge) rather than anxiety (i.e. to consider novelty as a risk to be avoided).

This article is part of the theme issue ‘Art, aesthetics and predictive processing: theoretical and empirical perspectives’.

More from our Archive