Two sides of the same mind
In two studies I examine how contextual information about the moral mind of the artist affects both children's and adults' response to works of art. Study 1 examined liking ratings of artworks as well as utilitarian objects. Factors varied were whether the items were said to have been made vs. owned by people of negative vs. positive moral character. Forty adults, 20 7-8-year-olds, and 23 4-5-year-olds were shown 12 artworks and 12 utilitarian objects and were asked to indicate on a 7-point scale how much they liked each one. Each item was presented as either owned or made by a person of positive or negative moral character. Moral character was predicted to affect liking ratings, with artworks expected to be affected more by the moral character of the maker than the owner, and utilitarian objects expected to be affected more by the moral character of the owner than the maker. Moral character had a significant effect on liking ratings: both artworks and utilitarian objects were liked less when believed to have been owned or made by someone of negative rather than positive moral character, demonstrating a moral contagion effect. Contrary to prediction, believing that an artwork was made by a person of negative moral character did not depress liking ratings more than believing that the artwork was owned by an artist of negative character. But consistent with prediction, believing that a utilitarian object was owned by a person of negative moral character depressed liking ratings more than believing that the object was made by someone of negative character. These findings held for all three age groups. Study 2 examined both liking and evaluative judgment ratings for two kinds of artworks: those whose content is related to the artist's moral character and those whose content is unrelated to the artist's character. Sixty-seven adults, 24 7-8 year-olds, and 23 4-5-year-olds were shown 12 representational paintings and were asked to indicate on a 7-point scale how much they liked each one and how good they thought each one was. Moral character was expected to affect both liking and evaluative judgment ratings, and content-related works were expected to be liked less than content unrelated works for artists of negative moral character; no effect of content-relatedness was expected for the putatively more objective evaluative judgments. Results replicated the moral contagion effect found in Study 1 for liking as well as judgment ratings with negative moral character linked to lower ratings than positive moral character. As predicted, liking ratings were lower for related than unrelated content for works by artists of negative moral character. Contrary to prediction, the same result held for works by artists of positive moral character. Evaluative judgment ratings were not affected by whether the content was related or unrelated in the case of artists of negative character (as predicted), but for artists of positive character, unrelated images were judged better. Children ages 7-8 behaved like adults for both liking and judgment ratings. Children ages 4-5 liked and judged as better the images with unrelated content for both mean and nice artists. Thus, adults and children ages 7-8-years old liked images more when the artist's moral mind was not visibly displayed but judged the related/unrelated images as equally good--indicating that the artistic mind (displayed through the arrangement of the composition, colors etc.) was more important for evaluations than was the moral mind. For 4-5-year-olds, preferences did not diverge from evaluative judgments. Thus, what they liked was what they thought was good, and moral "right" was equivalent to aesthetic "right". Taken together, results lead to the conclusion that artworks are affected by moral contagion, but moral contagion affects liking more strongly than it affects evaluative judgment.