Models of Aesthetic Appreciation

Aesthetic experiences are very common and can appear in virtually any context, as it seems to be typically human to evaluate and judge things based on how pleasing it is to perceive them. One context, however, that is particularly likely to elicit an aesthetic experience is a situation in which one interacts with art. In our ongoing research, we focus on finding out about the human repertoire of aesthetic reactions to art and understanding what mechanisms underlie this process; we investigate essential psychological and neurophysiological processes of visual art perception.

In 2004, our lab proposed a process model of aesthetic appreciation and aesthetic judgments. This model comprises five sequential stages, which include initial, implicit steps of Perceptual Analysis and Memory Integration, which are followed by more deliberate processing steps of Explicit Classification, Cognitive Mastering, and Evaluation.

Building on this work, we recently extended our original process model, including relevant brain areas that play a crucial role for each of the different stages. We put a strong focus on emotional processing of art, particularly on more profound, long-lasting effects that occur when viewers change the way they see the environment as a result of the interaction with art.

Of course we also look beyond our own work: In order to provide an encompassing overview of the manifold proposed processes and models linked to aesthetic experiences that have been proposed in the scientific literature, we conducted a thorough review of existing models of visual aesthetics and systematically put them into relation with each other, allowing to compare and classify different approaches.


Leder, H., Belke, B., Oeberst, A., & Augustin, M. D. (2004). A model of aesthetic appreciation and aesthetic judgments. British Journal of Psychology, 95, 489-508.

Leder, H., & Nadal, M. (2014). Ten years of a model of aesthetic appreciation and aesthetic judgments: The aesthetic episode - Developments and challenges in empirical aesthetics. British Journal of Psychology, 105(4), 443-464. doi:10.1111/bjop.12084

Leder, H., Markey, P. S., & Pelowski, M. (2015). Aesthetic emotions to art – What they are and what makes them special: Comment on “The quartet theory of human emotions: An integrative and neurofunctional model” by S. Koelsch et al. Physics of Life Reviews, 13(0), 67-70. doi:

Pelowski, M., Markey, P. S., Lauring, J. O., & Leder, H. (2016). Visualizing the impact of art: An update and comparison of current psychological models of art experience. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2016.00160

Pelowski, M., Markey, P. S., Forster, M., Gerger, G., & Leder, H. (2017). Move me, astonish me… delight my eyes and brain: The Vienna Integrated Model of top-down and bottom-up processes in Art Perception (VIMAP) and corresponding affective, evaluative, and neurophysiological correlates. Physics of Life Reviews. doi:


Patrick Markey:

Matthew Pelowski

Helmut Leder