Cognitive Pearl #056 Adar 22, 5775 March 13, 15

In the previous post, we discussed the story that the artist tells us. Our nature compels us to follow sensory points of the story; without much effort we connect the dots, forming a coherent narrative which we then reflect on.

For sure, this process is not limited to art and aesthetics. Our mind plays the connect-the-dots game throughout every moment of conscious awareness. What makes the aesthetic experience unique is how our mind is hijacked by the artist’s intentional use of distortion. Skin is ‘too perfect’, eyes are much more intense than in nature, and a million other variations make art so much more than a representation of ‘reality’.

That we become hijacked by these distortions is related to a phenomena known as the peak-shift effect. Without going into the details of Hanson’s experiments on pigeons, essentially when we have the choice between choosing between a stimulus or an exaggeration of the same stimulus, we will favor the exaggerated one.  In other words, we find deliberate distortions of a stimulus even more exciting than the stimulus itself.