Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics

Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics

Why do people perceive music and literature as varying in their beauty based on factors such as culture, society, historical period and individual taste? The Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, founded in 2012, aims to use scientific methods to explain the psychological, neuronal and socio-cultural basis of aesthetic perceptions and judgements. The institute, which is currently in the process of being established, will be managed by a Board of Directors consisting of four 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. Other fields, such as architecture and fashion will be incorporated by way of Max Planck research groups and 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.


Grüneburgweg 14
60322 Frankfurt am Main
Phone: +49 69 8300479-501
Fax: +49 69 8300479-599

PhD opportunities

This institute has no International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS).

There is always the possibility to do a PhD. Please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute.

Pictures in your head – The secret of beautiful poems
The more a poem evokes vivid sensory imagery, the more we like it more
Beautifully sad

Beautifully sad

December 04, 2017
A new study shows why we enjoy negative emotions in film and art more
Students on the same brainwave
Measuring of brain waves sheds light on social dynamics during class more
For the love of trash films
First comprehensive empirical investigation into trash films and their audience more
Share the work, share the feelings
The better a team works together, the more synchronized the team members' physiological responses more

Winfried Menninghaus, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt am Main, is studying how people react, not just mentally, but also physically to poetry and prose. For many classical philologists and Germanists, his work is a betrayal of their disciplines. But the scientist and his team have actually succeeded in rendering the effect of poetic and rhetorical language measurable for the first time – even in such intangible categories as elegance or such curious phenomena as the trash film cult.

Rock or Schlager? Classical or country? Pop or techno? Musical taste reveals quite a lot about an individual’s personality and status. However, listening habits are changing. Dyed-in-the-wool rock fans are dancing to German Schlager singer Dieter Thomas Kuhn, classical fans put Johnny Cash on while washing the dishes, and ravers listen to Chopin to chill. Melanie Wald-Fuhrmann and her team at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt am Main are investigating the essence and roots of musical preferences and tracking shifts in musical taste.
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Rhythmicity in human and non-human behaviour

2018 Poeppel, David; Rimmele, Johanna; Roeske, Tina
Cognitive Science Cultural Studies Linguistics Social and Behavioural Sciences

Many facets of human behaviour are rhythmic. Examples include singing, playing an instrument, or dancing, but also – perhaps less obviously – spoken language. First, we investigate the neuronal underpinnings of rhythmicity in humans. Using the example of speech, we aim to better understand the role of rhythmic neuronal activity in speech comprehension. Second, we use an animal model (songbird) to test whether rhythmicity, as observed in speech and music, is specific to human cognition – or plays a more general role in communication.


Being moved, goosebumps and the power of poetic language

2017 Menninghaus, Winfried; Wassiliwizky, Eugen
Cognitive Science Cultural Studies Linguistics Social and Behavioural Sciences

Ever since antiquity, it is a declared goal of the arts to emotionally move its audience (lat. movere). The studies reported here offer a scientific definition of feelings of being moved and prove its role in aesthetic evaluation. Confirming a "mixed" affective nature of these feelings, goosebumps – which accompany peak states of being moved – simultaneously activate the primary reward network and high levels of negative affect as measured by facial electromyography (EMG). Moreover, the distribution of goosebumps episodes across the trajectory of poems reveals secrets of artistic composition.

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