Aesthetic decision making is immediately visible in the process of artistic creation. In this short movie, Monet is making an impressive amount of micro-decisions in the act of capturing the fleeting reflections of light over waterlilies in a pond. These decisions are aesthetic not only because they are about the making of an artistic product, but because the artist grounds them on the empirical perception of light and color. The sensory flow, mediated by what the artist is trying to achieve and by his representation of the world, are a key ingredient in determining where the next brushstroke is going to fall. The word aesthetics, in fact, means “what pertains to the senses.” 

Recent findings in neuro-aesthetics[1], a science that studies how our brain appreciates art and beauty, consistently show that the aesthetic reasoning is based on our ability to identify and appreciate patterns of order, and that, when this appreciation takes place, we feel a form of aesthetic pleasure. This research also shows that appreciation of order appears to be a constant that transcends local and subjective variations of what is supposed to be aesthetically pleasant in different cultures and for different people[2]. Neuroscientists argues that if our brain has developed this universal ability along with an associated reward system based on aesthetic pleasure, it means that aesthetic thinking has played an important role in our evolution as a species.

Survival requires the mastering of two antithetic basic instincts[3]: on one hand we want to minimize the risks deriving from the exposure to novel, unknown situations, on the other we are excited to discover new opportunities that may be revealed if we engage into potentially rewarding, but risky exploration. This dual thinking is ubiquitous in our decisions: should we accept a new job? Should we wear a more eccentric or attire? Should we try that new food? Examples of similar dilemma can be offered for companies as well in their ongoing struggle between exploitation of well-known competitive strategies and adoption of novel business developments.

In this blog we argue that the driver behind human choice is often of aesthetic nature.No, I won’t accept the new job because if doesn’t feelthe right thing to do at this stage of my life. Yes, I will wear that eccentric outfit because it makes a better fitwith the social event I am going to attend. Yes, I will eat the new food because it looksgood. “Feeling right”, “better fitting”, and “good looking” are examples of aesthetic decision criteria. Aesthetic thinking involves a complex mix of data collection, information processing, and emotional reasoning, and aesthetic criteria act as decisive filters in many decisions. 

The reason why aesthetic decision making tends work pretty well is that aesthetic judgement contains a lot of good knowledge, knowledge that has been accumulated and filtered through evolution (survival), culture (is it socially desirable?), and personal experience (did it work in the past?). Thus, in the end, the quality of our decisions will depend on the quality of this accumulated knowledge and of our mastery of it.

[1]Ramachandran, V. S. (2012). The tell-tale brain: Unlocking the mystery of human nature. Random House.

Zeki, S. (2011). Splendors and miseries of the brain: Love, creativity, and the quest for human happiness. John Wiley & Sons.

[2] Dutton, D. (2009). The art instinct: beauty, pleasure, & human evolution. Oxford University Press, USA.

[3]Berghman, M., & Hekkert, P. (2017). Towards a unified model of aesthetic pleasure in design. New Ideas in Psychology47, 136-144.

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