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Norbert Schwarz
  Norbert Schwarz

Beauty is Familiar, Fast and Based on Beholder's Experiences

6/14/2005 --
Professor Norbert Schwarz presents research at the Ross School's IC1 Conference on visual marketing theory and practice.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—What is it that makes something or someone, beautiful? According to researchers, it is an age-old idiom that actually bears out—beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

Psychologist Norbert Schwarz, professor of marketing at the University of Michigan's Stephen M. Ross School of Business, recently presented this and other evidence of the origins of beauty at the IC1: Visual Marketing Conference at the Ross School. Schwarz pointed out that aesthetic pleasure is a function of the perceiver's processing dynamic—the more fluently perceivers can process an object, the more positive their aesthetic response.

Professor Schwarz's research focuses on the interplay of feeling and thinking, the role of conversational processes in reasoning and the nature of mental construal processes in judgment. He has found that at the heart of aesthetic pleasure is a set of shared variables or traits—goodness of form, symmetry, figure-ground contrast and proto-typicality. These variables are what facilitate fluent processing of the target stimulus, or the fast, desired reaction from a specific audience.

"We have seen that beauty does not rest in the objective features of an object, but derives instead from the processing experiences of the perceiver," Schwarz said. "Is beauty, therefore, in the eye of the beholder? In a sense it is, if folk wisdom thinks of the eye as the perceptual processes of the beholder."

However, he went on to say, beauty "in the eye of the beholder" has often been contrasted to "objective beauty." The fluency hypothesis resolves this apparent contradiction: beauty is in the processing experiences of the beholder, but these processing experiences are themselves, in part, a function of objective stimulus properties and the history of the perceiver's encounters with the stimulus. Hence, beauty appears to be "in the interaction" between the stimulus and the beholder's cognitive and affective processes.

Focusing in on Visual Marketing

The IC1 Conference was held to stimulate progress in the theory and practice of visual marketing. Practitioners and leading researchers in the fields of visual perception and persuasion, cognitive science and visual consumer behavior and marketing came together for the two-day conference where researchers in consumer behavior and marketing presented their work and discussed the implications for practice.

The conference, supported by the U-M's Yaffee Center for Persuasive Communication and the Ross School Dean's Office, also included the following presentations:
  • "Eye Movements During Information-Processing Tasks" by Keith Rayner, University of Massachusetts

  • "Is Unseen Really Unsold? Measuring the Value of Point-of Purchase Marketing with Eye-Tracking Data" by Pierre Chandon, INSEAD

  • "Using Eye-Tracking Data to Understand Visual Attention to Marketing Stimuli" by Rik Pieters, University of Tilburg

  • "The Role of Attention in Perception" by Chris Janiszewski, University of Florida

  • "Ratios in Proportion: Context Effects in Consumer Preferences for Rectangles" by Eric Greenleaf, New York University

  • "Product Category-Level and Shopping Trip-Level Drivers of In-Store Consumer Decision-Making" by J. Jeffrey Inman, University of Pittsburgh

  • "Judgments and Biases in Spatial and Temporal Judgments" by Priya Raghubir, University of California-Berkeley

  • "The Effect of Attending Information on Information Ignored" by Nader Tavassoli, London Business School

  • "Does Ceiling Height Affect Consumers' Processing?" by Joan Meyers-Levy, University of Minnesota

  • "Differentiating the Pictorial Element in Advertising: A Rhetorical Framework" by Edward McQuarrie, Santa Clara University

More information about the conference can be found online at

Written by Nancy Davis

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat
Phone:(734) 936-1015 or 647-1847