We like what experts or peers like - and what is expensive
During the study, students assessed a series of paintings according to personal pleasure. Before the presentation, the participants learned that certain social groups had already seen and evaluated the works before them. These included either peers (fellow university students), experts (museum curators at respected museums), or a group of similarly aged university dropouts who were currently unemployed and long-time social security recipients. The results were then compared with a control group that had evaluated the images without social context information.
This image shows Matthew Pelowski (left) and Michael Forster (right) from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Vienna during the research for their study.
Copyright: Helmut Leder, Faculty of Psychology, University of Vienna
"Results showed that when participants thought that either experts or their peers liked a painting, they also liked it more", says Pelowski. "However, when they thought that the unemployed dropouts didn't like a painting, participants went in the opposite direction and said that they liked it more."
In a second study, the researchers also showed that telling participants the (fictitious) sales price of a painting at an art auction, significantly changed the way they rated art. Very low prices made participants like art less, very high prices made them like art more.
Art is used to show allegiance to desirable social groups
"These results provide empirical support for a 'social distinction' theory, first introduced by the French Sociologist and Philosopher Pierre Bourdieu," explains Pelowski. "According to how we use our evaluation and engagement with art in order to show allegiance to, or distance ourselves from, desirable or undesirable social groups." Both studies also have important implications for museums, suggesting that the context can affect how we see art.
Contacts and sources:
University of Vienna
Publication in "Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts":
Lauring, J. O., Pelowski, M., Forster, M., Gondan, M., Ptito, M., & Kupers, R. (2016, June 13). Well, if They Like it . . . Effects of Social Groups' Ratings and Price Information on the Appreciation of Art. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Advance online publication.