The feeling of the sublime , a cascade of emotions associated with the aesthetic experience, surfaces when we are in front of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado and we feel insignificant. Or we lie under a black blanket of stars and we feel infinite. The same thing also happens to us when we are in front of certain works of art.
A new study , the first of its kind, suggests that these emotions can also surface if we immerse ourselves in a virtual reality environment.
The sublime in 360 degrees
As published by Alice Chirico, from the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano, Italy, and her colleagues, in the open access journal PLOS ONE , the study measured the emotional responses of 50 participants before and after watching immersive videos in 360 ° of The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence , the natural place represented in the painting.
As the authors conclude:
By using virtual reality, we provide the first empirical contribution to the ongoing debate about whether nature or art is better at evoking the experience of the sublime. We found that both nature and art are effective inducers, although they exhibit different nuances.
Statistical analysis of the participants’ responses showed that both virtual reality videos induced the sublime with similar intensity . However, there were some differences.
For example, nature-based video evokes a greater sense of vastness and a greater perception of existential danger.
Additionally, while the videos elicited similar emotions, the nature-based video evoked feelings of fear and positive affect that were of significantly greater intensity than those elicited by the art-based video. Participants also reported a greater sense of being present in nature-based video than art-based video .