Genetic effects on variability in visual aesthetic evaluations are partially shared across visual domains

Giacomo Bignardi, Dirk J. A. Smit, Edward A. Vessel, MacKenzie D. Trupp, Luca F. Ticini, Simon E. Fisher, Tinca J. C. Polderman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The aesthetic values that individuals place on visual images are formed and shaped over a lifetime. However, whether the formation of visual aesthetic value is solely influenced by environmental exposure is still a matter of debate. Here, we considered differences in aesthetic value emerging across three visual domains: abstract images, scenes, and faces. We examined variability in two major dimensions of ordinary aesthetic experiences: taste-typicality and evaluation-bias. We build on two samples from the Australian Twin Registry where 1547 and 1231 monozygotic and dizygotic twins originally rated visual images belonging to the three domains. Genetic influences explained 26% to 41% of the variance in taste-typicality and evaluation-bias. Multivariate analyses showed that genetic effects were partially shared across visual domains. Results indicate that the heritability of major dimensions of aesthetic evaluations is comparable to that of other complex social traits, albeit lower than for other complex cognitive traits. The exception was taste-typicality for abstract images, for which we found only shared and unique environmental influences. Our study reveals that diverse sources of genetic and environmental variation influence the formation of aesthetic value across distinct visual domains and provides improved metrics to assess inter-individual differences in aesthetic value.
Original languageEnglish
Article number55
JournalCommunications Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2024

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