Research Design Connection: Subject Matter and Art Preferences

Levitan, Winfield and Sherman evaluated responses to representational visual art and found, not surprisingly, that people prefer paintings whose subject matter they like. The Levitan team reports that, “Prior research has demonstrated that color preferences are driven by preferences for objects associated with those colors (e.g., that the sky is blue or that feces are brown influences preferences for blue and brown; Palmer & Schloss, 2010)…Our work demonstrates that, despite the seeming subjectivity of art preferences, subject matter significantly influences the formation of preferences…art preferences can be, at least partially, predicted by one’s preferences for the objects depicted in the art.”

Carmel Levitan, Emily Winfield, and Aleksandra Sherman. “Grumpy Toddlers and Dead Pheasants: Visual Art Preferences Are Predicted by Preferences for the Depicted Objects.” Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, in press,

Sally Augustin, PhD,a cognitive scientist, is the editor of Research Design Connections (, a monthly subscription newsletter and free daily blog, where recent and classic research in the social, design, and physical sciences that can inform designers’ work are presented in straightforward language. Readers learn about the latest research findings immediately, before they’re available elsewhere. Sally, who is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, is also the author of Place Advantage: Applied Psychology for Interior Architecture (Wiley, 2009) and, with Cindy Coleman, The Designer’s Guide to Doing Research: Applying Knowledge to Inform Design (Wiley, 2012). She is a principal at Design With Science ( and can be reached at