What is beautiful?

The Senate of the Max Planck Society has approved the establishment of a Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt am Main

June 14, 2012

The new Institute, for which co-financing to the tune of 45 million euros is being provided by the German federal state of Hesse, aims to use scientific methods to explain the psychological, neuronal and socio-cultural basis of aesthetic perceptions and judgements in humans. Why do people, for example, perceive music and literature as varying in their beauty based on factors such as culture, society, historical period and individual taste? “In accordance with the mission of the Max Planck Society, the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics will establish a completely new research field in Germany. Up to now, no research institute in the world has focused on the topic of aesthetics in this form and used empirical methods to research it,” says Peter Gruss, President of the Max Planck Society. The work carried out at the new Institute is expected to provide a significant impulse for research on learning and education, and for methodology in the social sciences and humanities.

The new Max Planck Institute will be managed by a Board of Directors consisting of four top scientists whose expertise covers the areas of literature, music, and the empirical cognitive and social sciences. The research programme will focus on music and literature, and, in cooperation with the Max Planck institutes for art history in Florence and Rome, the visual arts. It is also planned to incorporate other fields, such as architecture and fashion in the future, as well as to establish Max Planck research groups, and to nominate Max Planck fellows from universities. In addition, the scientists will regularly invite “artists in residence”, in particular composers and writers, to the Institute to participate in research projects. 

The Westend campus in Frankfurt/Main offers an ideal research environment for the new Institute: it is the home of the humanities, cultural and social science faculties of the Goethe University Frankfurt and the Leibniz Institute for Educational Research and Educational Information (DIPF). With the Brain Imaging Center, the Ernst Strüngmann Institute and the Neuroscience Center, the focus of activity at the Niederrad campus is the neurosciences. Two other Max Planck institutes, the MPI for Brain Research and the MPI of Biophysics, are also based at Riedberg campus in Frankfurt.

“I am delighted that this Max Planck Institute will be located in Hesse,” said Eva Kühne-Hörmann, Minister of State at the Hesse Ministry of Higher Education, Research and the Arts. The federal state will provide a total of around 45 million euros in funding for the new Institute. “Through this, we are not only providing planning certainty for the Max Planck Society, but also ensuring that additional federal funding will flow into Hesse.” According to a first cost estimate, the initial fit-out of the Institute will cost around 19 million euros. The Institute’s total budget, when it is up and running, will be around 10 million euros per year.

The new Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics is the Max Planck Society’s sixth institute in Hesse. Three institutes, the MPI of Biophysics, MPI for Brain Research and the MPI for European Legal History, are already based in Frankfurt/Main. Scientists at the MPI for Heart and Lung Research carry out their work in Bad Nauheim. Their colleagues at the MPI for Terrestrial Microbiology are based in Marburg.


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