Original Paper

Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 245-260

First online:

Beauty is in the eye of the psychologically fulfilled: How need satisfying experiences shape aesthetic perceptions of spaces

  • Netta WeinsteinAffiliated withUniversity of Essex Email author 
  • , Nicole LegateAffiliated withUniversity of Rochester
  • , Andrew K. PrzybylskiAffiliated withUniversity of Essex

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Individuals perceive beauty as a function of physical attributes paired with the subjective experience of an object or a space. Yet, little or no research has investigated how either relational or emotional experiences shape perceptions of the physical world. Four studies were conducted to address this question using self-determination theory (Ryan and Deci in Psychol Inq 11:319–338, 2000) as a guiding framework. Studies 1 and 2 indicated that satisfaction of the needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy in one’s childhood home was linked to perceptions of beauty directly and indirectly through emotions of the past (recollections of happiness) and present (nostalgia). Two additional studies focused on present-day spaces. In Study 3, we found that need satisfaction impacted perceptions of the university campus as beautiful. In a final study, we manipulated needs in the lab to identify a causal model of aesthetic perceptions. Findings are contextualized within the self-determination theory and perceived beauty literatures.


Beauty Self-determination theory Needs Happiness Nostalgia