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Culture and aesthetic preference

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This is a new website so from time to time I’ll be populating posts with some of my older work. Here is a 2008 paper with Taka Masuda, Dick Nisbett and Letty Kwan showing systematic cultural differences in preference for art and in picture taking. For example, we find a cultural difference in the choice of zoom that participants select when taking a portrait of a model. Japanese participants zoom out to capture the model in the context, whereas American participants zoom in on the face of the model. The example two pictures illustrates a general trend in our data.

Masuda, T., Gonzalez, R., Kwan, L., & Nisbett, R. (2008). Culture and esthetic preference: Comparing the attention to context of East Asians and Americans. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 9, 1260-1275. doi:10.1177/0146167208320555 PMid:18678860

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Abstract

Prior research indicates that East Asians are more sen- sitive to contextual information than Westerners. This article explored aesthetics to examine whether cultural variations were observable in art and photography. Study 1 analyzed traditional artistic styles using archival data in representative museums. Study 2 investigated how contemporary East Asians and Westerners draw landscape pictures and take portrait photographs. Study 3 further investigated aesthetic preferences for portrait photographs. The results suggest that (a) traditional East Asian art has predominantly context-inclusive styles, whereas Western art has predominantly object- focused styles, and (b) contemporary members of East Asian and Western cultures maintain these culturally shaped aesthetic orientations. The findings can be explained by the relation among attention, cultural resources, and aesthetic preference.