ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (2): 354-364.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.00354

• Regular Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Shared vs. private aesthetic tastes: The cognitive and neural mechanisms

HU Jia-Bao, LEI Yang, DING Xian-Feng, CHENG Xiao-Rong(), FAN Zhao()   

  1. Key Laboratory of Adolescent Cyberpsychology and Behavior (CCNU), Ministry of Education; Key Laboratory of Human Development and Mental Health of Hubei Province; School of Psychology, Central China Normal University (CCNU), Wuhan 430079, China
  • Received:2020-12-31 Online:2022-02-15 Published:2021-12-24
  • Contact: CHENG Xiao-Rong,FAN Zhao;


Shared and private aesthetic tastes represent universal and idiosyncratic aesthetic processing, respectively. The new trending that combines both aesthetic tastes are challenging pre-existing “universal” aesthetic principles. Previous research focused mainly on whether aesthetic principles were statistically universal, neglecting the fact that aesthetic attributes can cause different reactions among individuals. This contradictory relationship between generality and particularity concerns one long-standing but essential topic in aesthetics: is beauty universal and objective or idiosyncratic and highly subjective? If an aesthetic principle is only based on the average aesthetic judgment and is able to ignore the differences of aesthetic experience among individuals, can such an aesthetic principle support the proposition that "beauty is universal"? This is a reflection on empirical aesthetics brought by research on aesthetic tastes. Therefore, if private taste does play a role in aesthetic tastes, then there's no doubt that future studies on empirical aesthetics will have to take into consideration both dependent variables: the average aesthetic reactions and the extent to which such aesthetic reactions differ among individuals. Recent studies on aesthetic tastes have revealed many factors that can modulate the relative weights between shared and private tastes, the most typical of which is stimulus domain. Studies have shown that the proportion of shared taste in artificial stimuli (such as architecture and art) is less than that in natural stimuli (such as faces and landscapes). Other studies further demonstrated that high-level object categories (e.g., faces vs landscapes) can override aesthetic principles based on low-level stimulus features (e.g., symmetry). Besides stimulus domain, other factors, including expertise, cultural backgrounds, previous experience and age, can affect the relative weights between shared and private tastes. Recent fMRI and EEG studies have explored the neural mechanisms of shared and private aesthetic tastes, the basis of which includes sensory pathways and the reward system. Similar sensory “impressions” among individuals triggered by the same aesthetic stimuli may be the prerequisite that aesthetic responses share some commonality among individuals. Meanwhile, the reward system, especially medial orbitofrontal cortex(mOFC), shows homologous activation patterns across different stimulus domains. Therefore, both sensory pathways and the reward system might be the neural basis of shared aesthetic taste. What’s more, studies found that default-mode network (DMN) are suppressed in a task requiring external focus, and are engaged in tasks requiring internally directed thought, such as autobiographical memory and autistic thinking. Given that DMN is typically activated in self-directed thinking, it is possible that DMN is more related to individual differences in aesthetic responses, and plays a more important role in private aesthetic tastes. Furthermore, take example for the PIA model and the VIMAP model, contemporary aesthetic processing models still owe an explanation for aesthetic tastes. And it is yet to clear how different aesthetic processing stages lead to changes in relative weights between shared and private tastes. Two completely opposite predictions and explanations can be reached by these models. The first one is that early stages in aesthetic models are driven more by stimuli, thus leading to more homogeneity in aesthetic responses and greater proportion of shared taste due to the objectivity of stimulus characteristics; in contrast, late aesthetic stages are driven more by perceivers, leading to more proportion of private taste. The other one also makes some sense: in stimulus-driven stages, the general “gist” formed by different perceivers can also be heterogeneous because at these stages individuals process the stimuli incompletely and insufficiently. However, in perceiver-driven stages, individuals process stimuli more intactly and sufficiently, thus it is possible that in these stages perceivers have more similar impressions of the targeted stimuli, resulting in higher proportions of shared taste. In the future, more relevant studies are required to expand stimulus domain of aesthetic evaluation and to explore the corresponding relationship between aesthetic tastes and different aesthetic processing stages.

Key words: aesthetic taste, shared taste, private taste, aesthetic principles, cognitive and neural mechanisms

CLC Number: