Do You Feel Like I Do? A Study of Spontaneous and Deliberate Emotion Sharing and Understanding Between Artists and Perceivers of Installation Art

Matthew Pelowski, Eva Specker, Gernot Gerger, Helmut Leder, Lauren S. Weingarden

Humans appear naturally inclined to both broadcasting and to perceiving each other’s emotional experiences. Especially in the area of empathy or emotion contagion, studies have routinely documented our ability to respond to others’ affective states, often via faces or bodies. This can occur on an intellectual level of perceiving emotion signs or can involve actually feeling how others appear to be feeling or mirroring responses with our own brains and physiology. However, while well-documented in interpersonal studies, can this process occur in the absence of another human? Specifically, with art or music, a longstanding argument involves the potential for these media to act as a proxy for the artist, providing an interface whereby one can “feel in” to share an emotional connection. For visual art, however, this process has almost never been empirically recorded. Here, we introduce a paradigm wherein we assessed working artists’ emotional experiences and intentions as they produced installation artworks and then assessed resulting emotions and understanding of viewers. We find that in some cases (2 of 3 artworks) viewers did consistently feel more emotions that the artist had intended, they also spontaneously reported feeling similar emotion patterns as those reported by the artists when making, regardless of whether these had been intended. With all 3 artworks, viewers also showed ability to guess the emotion-transmission intentions of artists. Success at emotion sharing and at feeling intended emotions also positively related to ratings (i.e., goodness) of the art.

Department of Cognition, Emotion, and Methods in Psychology, Department of Art History
Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
501001 General psychology, 501011 Cognitive psychology, 501026 Psychology of perception
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