Comparative Aesthetics: A novel approach to investigate multi-modal attractiveness in humans and animals

As a foundation for Comparative Aesthetics, we will study the origins and cognitive mechanisms of visual and auditory aesthetics in mate selection. We focus on two well-studied species: humans and ring doves. Our first goal is to adapt existing paradigms from behavioral biology and psychology for comparable experiments with both species. This involves research protocols and behavioral and neurophysiological measures of partner choice and preference. We will test and use these newly adapted methods to find common cross-species aesthetic principles. In particular, we will study audio-visual interaction in the perception of attractiveness of potential mates. Humans and doves complete similar test protocols, while we measure behaviour and attentive processes using eye tracking in humans and high-speed cameras in doves. We will also continue our pioneering work in measuring avian EEG, adding a human comparison. Additionally, the self-report possible in humans will be valuable for a better understanding of basal cognitive processes and aesthetic responses. Our main innovation is to apply established research approaches across the disciplines of psychology and animal behaviour. This is only possible via open, intensive, ongoing dialogue between researchers of both fields and requires new tools to deliver measures of the same underlying behaviour. We envisage that our methods can then be applied to other species, to fulfill our goal of providing paradigms for comparative aesthetics.


Funded by the Vienna Science and technology Fund (WWTF) grant N. CS18-021


PI: Leonida Fusani
Co-PI: Cliodhna Quigley
Co-PI: Helmut Leder
Team member: Christina Krumpholz
Collaborator: Clementine Mitoyen

Related publications

Krumpholz, C., Quigley, C., Ameen, K., Reuter, C., Fusani, L. and Leder, H., 2022. The effects of pitch manipulation on male ratings of female speakers and their voices. Frontiers in psychology13DOI

Mitoyen, C., Quigley, C., Canoine, V., Colombo, S., Woelfl, S. and Fusani, L., 2022. Alteration of the temporal association between courtship audio and visual components affects female sexual response. Integrative ZoologyDOI

Spezie, G. and Fusani, L., 2022. Male–male associations in spotted bowerbirds (Ptilonorhynchus maculatus) exhibit attributes of courtship coalitions. Behavioral ecology and sociobiology76(7), pp.1-15. DOI

Spezie, G., Quigley, C. and Fusani, L., 2022. Learned components of courtship: A focus on postural displays, choreographies and construction abilities. Advances in the Study of Behavior, pp.43-108. Request PDF

Janisch, J., Perinot, E., Fusani, L. and Quigley, C., 2021. Deciphering choreographies of elaborate courtship displays of golden‐collared manakins using markerless motion capture. EthologyDOI

Mitoyen, C., Quigley, C., Boehly, T. and Fusani, L., 2021. Female behaviour is differentially associated with specific components of multimodal courtship in ring doves. Animal Behaviour173, pp.21-39. DOI

Fusani, L. 2020. The quest for a biological concept of beauty. In: ROSSI MONTI, M. & PEĆNJAK, D. (eds.) What is Beauty? A Multidisciplinary Approach to Aesthetic Experience. Cambridge Scholars Publishing: Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. Request reprint

Janisch, J., Perinot, E. and Fusani, L., 2020. Behavioural flexibility in the courtship dance of golden-collared manakins, Manacus vitellinusAnimal Behaviour166, pp.61-71. DOI

Mitoyen, C., Quigley, C. and Fusani, L., 2019. Evolution and function of multimodal courtship displays. Ethology125(8), pp.503-515. DOI

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