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VAST-Diskussion, Runde 1

  1. Eine Frage der Ordnung von Gerhard Stemberger
  2. K.O. Götz und die Psychologie der Gestaltwahrnehmung von Herbert Fitzek
  3. Is the Visual Aesthetic Sensitivity Test (still) relevant to psychology researchers? von Nils Myszkowski
  4. Discussion on VAST von Riccardo Luccio
  5. The VAST in Psychology today von Thomas Jacobsen, Barbara E. Marschallek, Selina M. Weiler
  6. A designer’s view of (and qualms about) the VAST von Roy R. Behrens

3. Is the Visual Aesthetic Sensitivity Test (still) relevant to psychology researchers?

Text: Nils Myszkowski

Abstract: The Visual Aesthetic Sensitivity Test proposes to capture the extent to which individuals are able to form judgments of aesthetic value that are in line with external standards, as determined by art experts. In this article, we discuss why, in spite of its flaws, this test is still relevant to psychology research, by explaining both how useful and pertinent the aims of the test are, and why the VAST is currently the test that is the most capable of achieving such aims.

As a psychology researcher, I have been studying the Visual Aesthetic Sensitivity Test (VAST) for several years. I have especially investigated its relations with personality, intelligence and creativity (Myszkowski et al., 2014, 2018), proposed a revised version for it (VAST-R; Myszkowski & Storme, 2017), studied response times in the test (Myszkowski, 2019), and discussed the importance of aesthetic sensitivity research on several occasions (Myszkowski et al., 2016, 2020; Myszkowski & Zenasni, 2016, 2020).

Is the VAST relevant to psychology researchers? I would argue that it certainly is. First, its aim is relevant. Several prominent researchers have, early on (e.g., Binet, 1908; Thorndike, 1916), noted that aesthetic sensitivity – the ability to make aesthetic judgments that agree with aesthetic standards (more pragmatically, experts’ judgments) – is a critical aspect of human ability in of itself, as well as a useful construct, notably for vocational guidance. Being able to study aesthetic sensitivity requires being able to measure it, which, although challenging, comes with the reward of allowing researchers to study (for example) when, how, and under which conditions individuals develop such expertise – when exposed to art, when discussing art, when creating art themselves, etc. It further allows to understand a variety of behaviors: Does aesthetic sensitivity allow to be more creative? To be more performant in or to find more enjoyment in certain tasks (e.g. designing objects) and occupations (e.g. architecture)? Is it involved in social skills, such as empathy? All of these questions are undoubtedly important, and make aesthetic sensitivity an important ability, especially now that artificial intelligence research challenges what makes human abilities so unique.

Still, for the VAST to be relevant, we do not only need its aim to be relevant: We also need to consider whether it achieves it. The VAST has been largely criticized (e.g., Gear, 1986), and I will here briefly discuss why these criticisms are somewhat unfair and mainly inherent to psychological measurement in general. First, VAST items are pairs of paintings that vary in aesthetic quality, and it is often argued that aesthetic quality can only be context-/culture-specific. A valid point, certainly, but one should note that there still are a number of studies comparing the VAST across cultures (e.g., Iwawaki et al., 1979), and, while they certainly need updating, they overall suggest that the VAST is invariant across cultures. In addition, the problem of cultural invariance is not specific to aesthetic sensitivity: It is just as much relevant regarding other constructs, such as personality traits. Second, it has been pointed that the items of the test mainly come from the agreement of eight experts over the correct answers. A valid point again, but, in general, using a panel of judges is standard in all domains where a true answer is impossible to determine (for example, in creativity research). Further, developers of psychometric tests in general are less conscientious about studying the validity of the content – the norm (for example, for personality questionnaires), is instead to skip any empirical investigation of the content of tests, unfortunately. The VAST is therefore quite a positive example in this respect. Third, it is often pointed that the content of the test is not representative of visual art in general, as it is exclusively composed of paintings by K.O. Götz, and operationalizes aesthetic quality only in terms of certain features (notably balance). This is true, but, do intelligence tests represent how humans use their intelligence in their daily lives? Do (dis)agreeing to statements represent how our personality manifests itself? Not at all. In fact, the consensus among psychometricians, as evidenced by the widespread use of statistical techniques like factor analysis, is not that items of a test are representative samples of a domain, but that they should be manifestations of/caused by individual attributes (Borsboom et al., 2003). In this respect, our research has showed that item responses in the VAST(-R) are, plausibly, manifestations of the same attribute (Myszkowski & Storme, 2017), and that the correlations observed between the test scores and other measures – such as measures of openness to aesthetics, figural creativity, and general mental ability – are in line with the definition of aesthetic sensitivity (Myszkowski et al., 2020). Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the VAST(-R) measures one single ability, and that this ability is likely a form of aesthetic ability – its very aim.

The VAST is certainly divisive among researchers in empirical aesthetics and psychology. It is however important to look past how controversial measuring good taste sounds, and to see instead that better measuring aesthetic sensitivity is a challenging and incremental process that allows a better understanding of human potential in all of its breadth.

Zurück | Weiter zu Discussion on VAST von Riccardo Luccio


Binet, A. (1908): La psychologie artistique de Tade Styka. In: L’Année psychologique 15(1), 316–356. https://doi.org/10.3406/psy.1908.3760

Borsboom, D., Mellenbergh, G. J., & Van Heerden, J. (2003): The theoretical status of latent variables. In: Psychological Review 110(2), 203.

Gear, J. (1986): Eysenck’s Visual Aesthetic Sensitivity Test (VAST) as an example of the need for explicitness and awareness of context in empirical aesthetics. In: Poetics 15(4–6), 555–564. https://doi.org/10.1016/0304-422X(86)90011-2

Iwawaki, S., Eysenck, H. J., & Götz, K. O. (1979): A new Visual Aesthetic Sensitivity Test: II. Cross-cultural comparison between England and Japan. In: Perceptual and Motor Skills 49(3), 859–862. psyh. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1979.49.3.859

Myszkowski, N. (2019): The first glance is the weakest: “Tasteful” individuals are slower to judge visual art. In: Personality and Individual Differences 141, 188–195. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2019.01.010

Myszkowski, N., Çelik, P., & Storme, M. (2018): A meta-analysis of the relationship between intelligence and visual “taste” measures. In: Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 12(1), 24–33. https://doi.org/10.1037/aca0000099

Myszkowski, N., Çelik, P., & Storme, M. (2020): Commentary on Corradi et al.’s (2019) new conception of aesthetic sensitivity: Is the ability conception dead? In: British Journal of Psychology https://doi.org/10.1111/bjop.12440

Myszkowski, N., & Storme, M. (2017): Measuring “Good Taste” with the Visual Aesthetic Sensitivity Test-Revised (VAST-R). In: Personality and Individual Differences 117, 91–100. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2017.05.041

Myszkowski, N., Storme, M., & Zenasni, F. (2016): Order in complexity: How Hans Eysenck brought differential psychology and aesthetics together. In: Personality and Individual Differences 103, 156–162. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2016.04.034

Myszkowski, N., Storme, M., Zenasni, F., & Lubart, T. (2014): Is visual aesthetic sensitivity independent from intelligence, personality and creativity? In: Personality and Individual Differences 59, 16–20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2013.10.021

Myszkowski, N., & Zenasni, F. (2016): Individual differences in aesthetic ability: The case for an Aesthetic Quotient. In: Frontiers in Psychology 7(750). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00750

Myszkowski, N., & Zenasni, F. (2020): Using Visual Aesthetic Sensitivity Measures in Museum Studies. In: Frontiers in Psychology 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00414

Thorndike, E. L. (1916): Tests of esthetic appreciation. In: Journal of Educational Psychology 7(9), 509–522.


w/k-Redaktion (2020): VAST-Diskussion, Runde 1. w/k - Zwischen Wissenschaft & Kunst. https://doi.org/10.55597/d13752

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