Effects of liking on visual attention in faces and paintings

Jürgen Goller*, Aleksandra Mitrovic, Helmut Leder

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

29 Citations (Scopus)


The visual aesthetics of an object increases visual attention towards the object. It is argued that this relation between liking and attention is an evolutionary adaptation in sexual and natural selection. If this is the case, we would expect this relation to be domain specific, and thus, stronger for biological than for non-biological objects. To test this hypothesis, we conducted two eye-tracking studies, in which we compared the relation between liking and gaze patterns in images of biological (faces) and non-biological (paintings) stimuli. In Study 1, we presented randomly combined image pairs for 20 s in a free-viewing paradigm. Participants then selected the image they liked more in a 2-AFC task and rated the liking of each image on a Likert-scale. In Study 2, we employed the same paradigm but this time, images were combined based on pre-rated liking to ensure that images in each pair were clearly different. In both studies, we found a strong relation between liking and visual attention. Against our expectations, these effects were of similar magnitude for faces as for paintings. We conclude that the relation between liking and visual attention is not limited to biological objects but that its effects are domain general. The evolutionary function of the relation between liking and visual attention might stem from evolutionary adaptations, nonetheless, this link seems to be a rather basic phenomenon that applies across domains.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-123
Number of pages9
JournalActa Psychologica
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Aesthetics
  • Artworks
  • Eye tracking
  • Facial attractiveness
  • Liking
  • Visual attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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