Images Influencing Images: How Pictorial Context Affects the Emotional Interpretation of Art Photographs

Claire Reymond, Jan Benjamin Vornhagen, Matthew Pelowski, Klaus Opwis, Elisa Mekler

Research output: Journal Article or Conference Article in JournalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Images are never seen in isolation. Instead, they are perceived within a spatial and temporal tapestry of neighboring images. What impact do other images have on our emotional response toward a particular image? Answers to this basic question have vital implications for a range of fields—especially for visual communication and for curating art, where resources are invested in arranging images within a visual context. Previous studies have provided mixed results, suggesting that juxtaposed images may lead to contrast or assimilation processes increasing and decreasing our liking of an image. But how specific image features in neighboring images (image’s ambiguity or formal similarities between images) modulate our affective interpretation of an image has almost never been explored. In Study 1, we compared the emotion perceived in art photographs (“target” images) when displayed on their own versus when displayed in juxtaposition with negatively or positively valenced nonart (“context”) images. Additionally, we analyzed the influence of the artwork’s perceived ambiguity. In Study 2, we examined the effect of the perceiver’s expertise and the formal similarity between the images on the rated valence of the target image. Our results show that the emotion perceived in the artwork contrasted away from or assimilated toward the valence perceived in the context image depending on which evaluative dimension was activated. Moreover, the influence of negative contextual material on the target image’s valence was more pronounced. We conclude by saying that the evaluative dimension is part of the pictorial context that influences the affective interpretation of an image.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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