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Vivid Mental Images Make Poems More Pleasing, Study Finds

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Researchers looking into the philosophical question, “Why do we like what we like?” have found that several factors, including poetry that provides vivid mental imagery, make things more aesthetically pleasing to people.

Aesthetics play a role in daily lives, ruling human judgement whether they are conscious of it or not, from the simple things like what to wear, to the bigger decisions like which house to buy, NDTV reports. But there has been so little information on what factors might be influencing these decisions.

Amy Belfi, who was a postdoctoral fellow in New York University (NYU) at the time of the study and lead author on the study, decided to focus on aesthetics with regards to what people found pleasing about poetry.

Belfi said,

People disagree on what they like, of course.

However, despite disagreements on an individual level, the study discovered that there were some specific characteristics that consistently affected a person’s enjoyment of a poem.

There were 400 participants in the study, all of whom read and rated poems of two genres: the haiku and the sonnet. This experiment was meant to understand the factors that best predicted the aesthetic appeal of poems. After reading the poems, the participants answered questionnaires regarding the poems’ vividness, emotional appeal, emotional valence and aesthetic appeal.

The answers showed that the vividness of mental imagery in the poems was the best predictor of aesthetic appeal, and poems that evoked more imagery were said to be more pleasing.

However, the readers could not uniformly agree which poem they found generally more appealing, reinforcing the fact that people have differing tastes. Nevertheless, it can be said that vividness of imagery and emotional valence at least form a common ground on which a poem’s aesthetic value can be measured.

The study was published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.

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