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Are there different types of beauty? In this video, WINFRIED MENNINGHAUS investigates the meanings of and values inherent in four categories of subject appeal, namely beauty, elegance, grace, and sexiness. Adopting a bottom-up approach which foregrounds individual beliefs over theoretical assumptions, Menninghaus finds that elegance, grace, and sexiness are sub-variants of the broader notion of beauty. Among its many insights, the work explores why persons of outstanding beauty are perceived as self-centered while, by contrast, elegance is associated with positive social virtues.


Professor Winfried Menninghaus is Director of the Department of Language and Literature at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics. Having previously directed the interdisciplinary research cluster Languages of Emotions at the Free University of Berlin, Menninghaus’s research interests include philosophical, empirical and evolutionary aesthetics and classical rhetoric and poetics. A member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences since 2002, Menninghaus’s monograph Aesthetics After Darwin: The Multiple Origins and Functions of the Arts was published in 2019.


Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics

The Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics (MPIEA) was founded in 2013 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, and is part of the Max Planck Society. In a joint effort of researchers from the humanities and the natural sciences, it explores who aesthetically appreciates what, for which reasons and under which situational and historical circumstances, and analyzes the functions of aesthetic practices and preferences for both individuals and societies. In this interplay between the humanities and the natural sciences, the MPIEA draws on a broad range of multidisciplinary expertise as well as a variety of methods. The primary focuses in our research on the many nuances of aesthetic perception include the individual, cultural, and historical differences among aesthetic preferences; the cognitive and affective mechanisms governing aesthetically evaluative perception as well as their neural, physiological, and behavioral correlates, the functions of aesthetic experiences for personal development, subjective well-being, and social communication.

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Original publication

Beauty, Elegance, Grace, and Sexiness Compared

Menninghaus Winfried, Wagner Valentin, Kegel Vanessa, Knoop Christine A. and Schlotz Wolff
Published in 2019

The Emotional Power of Poetry: Neural Circuitry, Psychophysiology and Compositional Principles

Menninghaus Winfried, Wagner Valentin, Wassiliwizky Eugen, Koelsch Stefan and Jacobsen Thomas
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Published in 2017

Aesthetic Appreciation of Poetry Correlates with Ease of Processing in Event-related Potentials

Menninghaus Winfried, Obermeier Christian, Kotz Sonja A., Jessen Sarah, Raettig Tim and von Koppenfels Martin
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
Published in 2016

Mapping the Aesthetic Space of Literature “From Below”

Menninghaus Winfried, Wagner Valentin, Knoop Christine A. and Jacobsen Thomas
Published in 2016

Das Versprechen der Schönheit

Menninghaus Winfried
Published in 2003