Saturday, June 22, 2019

Beauty, elegance, grace, and sexiness compared

Beauty, elegance, grace, and sexiness compared. Winfried Menninghaus, Valentin Wagner, Vanessa Kegel, Christine A. Knoop, Wolff Schlotz. PLOS, June 21, 2019.

Abstract: Beauty is the single most frequently and most broadly used aesthetic virtue term. The present study aimed at providing higher conceptual resolution to the broader notion of beauty by comparing it with three closely related aesthetically evaluative concepts which are likewise lexicalized across many languages: elegance, grace(fulness), and sexiness. We administered a variety of questionnaires that targeted perceptual qualia, cognitive and affective evaluations, as well as specific object properties that are associated with beauty, elegance, grace, and sexiness in personal looks, movements, objects of design, and other domains. This allowed us to reveal distinct and highly nuanced profiles of how a beautiful, elegant, graceful, and sexy appearance is subjectively perceived. As aesthetics is all about nuances, the fine-grained conceptual analysis of the four target concepts of our study provides crucial distinctions for future research.


Both in lay concepts of aesthetic perception and evaluation [13] and in empirical research, beauty is by far the single most important aesthetic virtue term. To be sure, already 18th century aesthetics knew of several other target virtues, such as the sublime ([46]; see also [79]) and the interesting ([10,11]; see also [1214]). Today, the overall picture is far more diversified (for a survey of several dozens of relevant terms, see [2] and [15]). Still, beauty ratings remain the prime currency of empirical studies in aesthetics. Supporting this tendency, theoretical accounts of aesthetic appeal and concomitant pleasure and liking––such as the processing fluency hypothesis cf. [1621]––also show a bias towards explaining attributions of beauty rather than of the sublime or of other aesthetic virtues.
The present article does not challenge this primacy of beauty. Rather, it is aimed at an inner diversification of the beauty pole of aesthetics. It is distinctive of the concept of beauty that is used in a very broad way, at least so in the Western tradition since Greek antiquity. On the one hand, it encompasses the sexual beauty of bodily looks and natural beauty in general (landscapes, animals, etc.); on the other hand, beauty is also attributed to a great variety of cultural artefacts, including classical artworks and numerous objects of design. In the present study, we focus on three concepts each of which we expected to show great semantic overlap with the broader concept of beauty, while at the same time distinctly capturing special facets of beauty on the nature-culture continuum.
  1. For the cultural beauty pole, we selected “elegance.” In Latin, “elegantia” meant refinement, tasteful correctness, and decorousness, with a specific focus on carefully choosing––lat. eligere, to elect––one’s words [22]. Starting in the 14th century, the concept has increasingly come to be applied to multiple domains, including refined personal looks, many objects of design (evening wear, jewelry, hairstyles, furniture, cars––specifically, cabriolets and limousines––, yachts, villas, restaurants, bridges, skyscrapers, etc.), movements, verbal articulation and argumentation, and to unexpectedly smooth solutions to difficult cognitive or technical problems (see S1 Text). Compared to beauty, elegance is far less frequently and far more selectively applied to natural objects, with tigers, leopards and other cats being among the exceptions (not least by virtue of their elegance in movement).
  2. For the natural (sexual) beauty pole, we selected the modern term “sexy.” To be sure, this term is not exclusively applied to natural bodily looks, but also to clothing and self-styling and hence to cultural ways of enhancing or highlighting physical sexual attractiveness. The term “sexy” has no tradition in modern philosophical aesthetics, as many, though by no means all authors (see, for instance, Edmund Burke, [4], p. 115) programmatically tried to purge aesthetics and even the theory of beauty of all reminders of sexual desire and biological functions. At the same time, a sexual dimension of beauty attributions to individuals plays an important role in the cultural record from antiquity through modernity, and Charles Darwin’s account of competitive beauty displays throughout nature and human cultures lends much credit to this rich tradition [23].
  3. As a third term closely related to beauty, we included the concept of “grace.” Schiller defined grace (German Anmut) as “beauty in motion” ([24]; see also Burke [4], p. 119 and [25]), whereas Lord Kames defined it as “elegance in movement” ([26], p. 364). Today, too, grace is nearly exclusively attributed to the movements of people (and some animals), but barely ever to inanimate objects. Regarding the nature-culture-continuum of beauty, grace, for all its overlap with elegance and hence cultural sophistication, appears to lean more towards the natural pole in that graceful movements can well be found in young children and animals and hence are less dependent on cultural sophistication than typical forms of elegance in movement, such as in ballet and other forms of dance. Still, in accordance with the classical definitions, we expected that grace should show far greater overlap with elegance and beauty than with sexiness.
Remarkably, across all major Germanic, Romance and Slavic languages, the Finno-Ugric languages, many Asian languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean), and potentially beyond, words for “elegance” are lexicalized in phonologically convergent form, i.e., based on the Latin word “elegantia.” For “grace” and “sexy,” a similar adoption of the Latin words “gratia” and “sexus” applies across many languages, albeit not to the same degree. The successful migration of these terms into many other languages suggests that they capture special facets of aesthetic appeal that are salient, in however culturally varying form, across centuries and cultures.

Our study is the first to comparatively analyze the four categories under scrutiny––beauty, elegance, grace, and sexiness––for their distinct perceptual, cognitive and affective implications that together make up their meaning. Specifically, it is aimed at elucidating, with high granularity, the mental constructs which individuals have acquired regarding beauty, elegance, grace, and sexiness. Linguistic concepts are reflective of mental constructs largely shared across linguistic communities, in some cases also across different languages and cultures. Our study tapped into these mental constructs using a variety of methods, including free associations, questionnaires and semantic differentials. We did not present any beautiful, elegant, graceful, and/or sexy stimuli in rating tasks. Rather, we exclusively targeted the very constructs that guide individuals when they end up perceiving and categorizing specific phenomena as beautiful, elegant, graceful, or sexy.

Do conservatives react with higher levels of electrodermal activity to threatening stimuli than liberals? Overall, we find little empirical support for the claim

Osmundsen, Mathias, David Hendry, Lasse Laustsen, Kevin Smith, and Michael Bang Petersen. 2019. “The Psychophysiology of Political Ideology: Replications, Reanalysis and Recommendations.” PsyArXiv. June 21. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: This manuscript presents a large-scale, empirical evaluation of the psychophysiological correlates of political ideology and, in particular, the claim that conservatives react with higher levels of electrodermal activity to threatening stimuli than liberals. We (1) conduct two large replications of this claim, using locally representative samples of Danes and Americans; (2) re-analyze all published studies and evaluate their reliability and validity; and (3) test several features to enhance the validity of psychophysiological measures and offer a number of recommendations. Overall, we find little empirical support for the claim. This is caused by significant reliability and validity problems related to measuring threat-sensitivity using electrodermal activity. When assesed reliably, electrodermal activity in the replications and published studies captures individual differences in the physiological changes associated with attention shifts, which are unrelated to ideology. In contrast to psychophysiological reactions, self-reported emotional reactions to threatening stimuli are reliably associated with ideology.

Structural changes in labor markets are more likely to be sustained, in contrast to unemployment rates, which fluctuate with cycles; unemployment reductions are unlikely to reverse declining fertility trends

Beyond the Great Recession: Labor Market Polarization and Ongoing Fertility Decline in the United States. Nathan Seltzer. Demography, June 18 2019.

Abstract: In the years since the Great Recession, social scientists have anticipated that economic recovery in the United States, characterized by gains in employment and median household income, would augur a reversal of declining fertility trends. However, the expected post-recession rebound in fertility rates has yet to materialize. In this study, I propose an economic explanation for why fertility rates have continued to decline regardless of improvements in conventional economic indicators. I argue that ongoing structural changes in U.S. labor markets have prolonged the financial uncertainty that leads women and couples to delay or forgo childbearing. Combining statistical and survey data with restricted-use vital registration records, I examine how cyclical and structural changes in metropolitan-area labor markets were associated with changes in total fertility rates (TFRs) across racial/ethnic groups from the early 1990s to the present day, with a particular focus on the 2006–2014 period. The findings suggest that changes in industry composition—specifically, the loss of manufacturing and other goods-producing businesses—have a larger effect on TFRs than changes in the unemployment rate for all racial/ethnic groups. Because structural changes in labor markets are more likely to be sustained over time—in contrast to unemployment rates, which fluctuate with economic cycles—further reductions in unemployment are unlikely to reverse declining fertility trends.

Keywords: Fertility Great recession Labor market polarization Unemployment