A Preliminary Investigation of the Reliability and Validity of an Aesthetic Judgment Test

Gary Bamossy, California Polytechnic State University
Debra L. Scammon, University of Utah
Marilyn Johnston, University of Utah
ABSTRACT - Symbolic consumer behavior, which focuses on the abstract, intangible and aesthetic aspects of product attributes and consumption is still in the early stages of development, both theoretically and empirically. This paper discusses the nature of aesthetic response, and proposes a new instrument which measures aesthetic judgment ability using a cognitive-developmental perspective. Evidence for reliability and validity of the instrument xs presented, and potential uses of the instrument are discussed.
[ to cite ]:
Gary Bamossy, Debra L. Scammon, and Marilyn Johnston (1983) ,"A Preliminary Investigation of the Reliability and Validity of an Aesthetic Judgment Test", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, eds. Richard P. Bagozzi and Alice M. Tybout, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 685-690.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, 1983      Pages 685-690


Gary Bamossy, California Polytechnic State University

Debra L. Scammon, University of Utah

Marilyn Johnston, University of Utah

[This test was developed in part for use in Gary Bamossy's Doctoral Dissertation, Department of marketing, University of Utah. Requests for the test should be sent to Gary Bamossy, School of Business Administration, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California 93407.


Symbolic consumer behavior, which focuses on the abstract, intangible and aesthetic aspects of product attributes and consumption is still in the early stages of development, both theoretically and empirically. This paper discusses the nature of aesthetic response, and proposes a new instrument which measures aesthetic judgment ability using a cognitive-developmental perspective. Evidence for reliability and validity of the instrument xs presented, and potential uses of the instrument are discussed.


It is commonly recognized that products may serve as symbols, and therefore may be evaluated, purchased, and consumed based upon their symbolic content (Zaltman and Wallendorf 1979). Nevertheless, it is fair to say that marketers have typically focused on the more concrete, tangible and utilitarian aspects of consumption, and less on the abstract, intangible. and aesthetic aspects of consumption. Within the marketing discipline, research on symbolic consumption is still in the early stages of development both theoretically and empirically. Even within the field of aesthetics, what conceptual/ theoretical advancements that have been made have been slowed by the dearth of standardized and objective measurement tools for assessing responses to aesthetic stimuli.

If marketers are to influence consumers' responses to the symbolic and aesthetic aspects of products, they must understand the cognitive and experiential antecedents of aesthetic responses which, in turn, will require instruments to evaluate aesthetic response. The purposes of this paper are to briefly review the nature of aesthetics and aesthetic responses, describe a test for assessing aesthetic judgment ability which was developed to measure responses to the visual art form of paintings, and to present results of initial testing of the reliability and validity of the test.


Aesthetics and Consumer Behavior

Marketers are just beginning to understand some of the processes which influence consumers' responses to intangible and aesthetic aspects of products. In their quest for understanding, marketers have borrowed both theoretical perspectives and empirical techniques from other disciplines. Multidimensional scaling techniques used by Berlyne and his colleagues in studying the visual arts have been used in studying symbolic product attributes (Holbrook and Huber 1979; Holbrook and Moore 1981). Measures of cognitive complexity and aesthetic preferences have been applied to responses to literature passages (Wallendorf, Zinkham and Zinkham 1981). Surveys have examined demographic and psychographic influences on arts patronage behavior (Andreasen and Belk 1980; DiMaggio, Useem and Brown 1978), cross patronage behaviors to various art forms (Semenik and Young 1980), the dynamics of audience involvement, and audience motivations for attending performing arts (Ryans and Weinberg 1978; Bamossy and Semenik 1981).

A common interest among these studies is the examination of responses to aesthetic stimuli and/or aesthetic attributes of stimuli. There is, however, a noticeable lack of attention to or agreement on a definition of aesthetic response in these studies.

Aesthetic Response

The many bases used in research examining individuals' responses to aesthetic stimuli suggest that the study of aesthetic response is complex and conceptually rich. Theories from art historians, psychoanalysts, semioticians, information theorists, and philosophical aestheticians have all contributed to the understanding of man's creation of and response to works of art. These varied perspectives attempt to explain aesthetics by the detection of structural properties of aesthetic stimuli, of consistencies among the structural properties of aesthetic stimuli, and of individuals' perceptual reactions to these properties (Cupchik and Heinricks 1981).

Despite the fact that there does not appear to be a generally accepted definition of aesthetic response, there is relative consensus about the concept of an aesthetic response. Berlyne (1974) suggests that a work of art can be regarded as a stimulus pattern whose collative (structural) properties give it a positive intrinsic hedonic value. "When we say that something has a 'positive intrinsic hedonic value' we mean that contact with it is pleasurable, rewarding, etc., in itself and not because it affords access to other events with beneficial or noxious qualities. This is close to what aestheticians have meant when they have spoken of art as an 'end in itself' or of aesthetic appreciation as 'disinterested"' (Berlyne 1974, p. 8).

This concept of aesthetic response is similar to that used by Holbrook (1981) in defining aesthetic experience as it relates to the consumption of symbolic goods: "there appears to be some consensus among philosophers devoted to the subject that aesthetic experience involves attending to, perceiving, and appreciating an object-for-itself, without regard to whatever utilitarian function it might perform" (Holbrook 1981, p. 37). In other words, to respond aesthetically to an object, such as a work of art, is to respond relevantly to what is there, and to avoid bringing in biases relating to conventionality, subject matter, representation, or normative expectations. Aesthetic responses are primarily emotional or feeling responses and are thus very personal. They cannot be objectively evaluated as "right" or wrong".

Aesthetic Judgment

There are, however, some relatively more objective evaluations of aesthetic objects which have been of interest to researchers. These are most commonly referred to as aesthetic judgments. Smith (1971) suggests that making a judgment involves description (e.g., identifying and classifying), analysis (e.g., examining the relationship of parts of a wrok to each other), interpretation (e.g., attaching meaning to the work as a whole), and evaluation (e.g., based on the preceding activities). Evaluations based upon full perception of the subtlety and nuances of the work will provide a richer and more valid premise for the judgment (Brumback 1978). However, aesthetic judgments do not always follow this detailed process, and the judgment or evaluation of an art work is not something necessarily reserved for informed experts.

In order to introduce some "objectivity" into the study of aesthetic judgments the expert-naive paradigm has been used. Predetermined standards of value agreed upon by experts provide an "informed judgment" of the aesthetic worth of a stimulus. Subjects' judgments of the stimulus along various dimensions are then rated as more or less relevant with these expert opinions as benchmarks. As Child (1964) suggests, "Esthetic judgment, as a measured variable, is the extent to which, when a person judges the esthetic value of stimuli, his judgments correspond to the external standard of value which is being employed."

Empirical Aesthetics

The field of empirical aesthetics employs the expert-naive paradigm in studying aesthetic judgments. Empirical aesthetics is distinguished from other studies of aesthetics by its perspective and by the research methodology it employs. Empirical aestheticians attempt to recreate an aesthetic episode in a laboratory setting and then manipulate various potential influences on subjects r perceptions of the episode. Their interest is in the interaction between the viewer and the aesthetic stimulus.

In empirical aesthetics, the emphasis is on sampling procedures, research design, and statistical analysis of data. Studies typically concentrate on the "structural" or "formal" properties of stimuli, with subjects asked to respond to stimulus patterns (often synthetically created stimuli rather than the works of art) along dimensions such as simple-complex, ugly-beautiful, or uninteresting-interesting, Empirical aestheticians tend to be more interested in making predictions of aesthetic behavior than in understanding the historical antecedents which lead to behavior, or in studying the subsequent behavior of subjects following exposure to aesthetic stimuli.

The interest in empirical investigations of aesthetic judgments gave rise to the development of a variety of measurement tools. These are briefly reviewed as background to the presentation of the aesthetic judgment test proposed in this paper.


The tradition of empirical research on aesthetics began with Fechner (1876), who conducted experiments in a Dresden art gallery where patrons were asked to state their preferences and reasoning for judging one original and one counterfeit painting. Since that time, research efforts in measuring preferences, appreciation and aesthetic judgment have employed either researcher-developed instruments or one of the few standardized tests of aesthetic judgment which began to appear in 1920.

Most of the research activity related to the development of standardized tests of art appreciation occurred between 1920 and 1940. Among the available tests are the Thorndike's Test for Aesthetic Appreciation (1916), the Christensen and Karwoski Test for Art Appreciation (1926), the Graves Design Judgment lest (1939), the Meier Art Judgment Test (1940), the Beittel Art Acceptance Scale (1953), and the Child Test of Esthetic Sensitivity (1964).

All of these instruments belong within the expert-naive paradigm, and each instrument has limitations, some more severe than others. [For intercorrelations from .21 to .51 among such tests see Barrett (1949), Bolton (1955), and Crannell (1953).] Instruments which utilize formal design qualities such as Graves (1939), Thorndike (1916), Gordon (1923) , and to some extent Heier (1940), all base evaluation of aesthetic sensitivity on individual formal design elements, not actual complete works of art. For example, in the Graves' Design Judgment Test, subjects must choose the most preferred drawing from a pair (or trio), where the drawings are simple abstract designs rather than works of art. This focus on elements of design rather than works of art severely limits the validity of responses when they purport to Predict the behavior of a subject toward an art object.

Another common limitation of these tests is that they do not distinguish between preference and judgment. Preference involves choice, and it is determined by many personal idiosyncracies; judgments require reasoned decisions based on some criteria. An expert might well judge a painting to have high aesthetic value and yet not personally prefer the painting. On a test, reasons need to be evaluated (agree/disagree with expert judgments) in order to determine whether the test is eliciting preferences or judgment. Failure to discriminate between preference and judgment limits the construct validity of a test within the expert-naive paradigm. These kinds of limitations lend support to Davis' (1967) appraisal of the standardized art instruments developed prior to the 1940's: "These early tests were hindered by the fact that there were no working definitions of the factors which were being examined . . . the result was that many of the tests measured things which they were not constructed to measure, and did not measure factors which they were supposed to measure."

These and other problems with the standardized aesthetic judgment instruments have hindered the development of an understanding of aesthetic judgments and aesthetic responses and the processes affecting them. In summary, many of the tests discussed above can be described as measures of aesthetic preference, rather than measures of aesthetic judgment, since the subject's score is based on the number of times his preferences agree with those stated by a panel of experts. Furthermore, these tests are based on theoretical perspectives which have limited-applications for empirically-based research (i. e., theories from art history, art philosophy or philosophical aesthetics).


Before progress can be made, it is necessary to develop an instrument which overcomes (or at least minimizes) the problems of currently available measurement tools. Ideally, such an instrument would have its origins in a theoretical base which will lend itself to a variety of behaviorally-oriented, empirically-based research perspectives. In an attempt to move in this direction, the instrument presented in this paper uses a cognitive-developmental perspective.

Cognitive Developmental Perspective

Cognitive developmental theories, including the theories of Baldwin (1906), Piaget (1948) and Kohlberg (1966), have a common notion that developmental stages can be identified which describe the cognitive structures underlying thought/understanding in various domains. Parsons has looked at the aesthetic domain and described a theoretical framework (1976) and subsequent stages of aesthetic judgment (1978). Speaking in a general way, the theoretical stages describe how aesthetic development proceeds, identifying what is understood to be relevant, or irrelevant to the experience of an aesthetic object. The developing understanding of what is aesthetically relevant involves more than perspective or preference. Neither perception, a naming of qualities, nor preference, preferring one quality to another, requires justification. To t ind the phenomenal qualities of a work relevant or irrelevant is to imply a reasoned response. For example, to make a judgment about the appropriateness of a subject matter or the use of a particular color to achieve an expressive quality assumes reasons, however implicit, underlying the judgment. It is the reasons offered to support aesthetic judgments which reveal what is understood to be relevant in an aesthetic experience.

This developing sense of relevance has both affective and cognitive aspects, since to find something relevant in an aesthetic experience is to respond to it with some feeling. "What develops affectively is not so much the power of feeling, but the power of feeling 'relevantly,' i.e., in the direction of increased complexity, subtlety, and responsiveness" (Parsons 1968). As the person becomes more aware or and responds to various features of an aesthetic object, what was noticed at an earlier stage, or was thought to be irrelevant, becomes important. Simultaneously, many considerations thought important at an earlier stage are discounted, or found to be irrelevant at a later stage. This cognitive sense of relevance, as it develops, structures experience into qualitatively different stages. These stages are stages or aesthetic judgment.

This immediately raises normative questions, since the implication is that each change is in the direction of what is ultimately relevant in an aesthetic response. In fact, any developmental scheme implies a normative conception of the end state to which development leads. In the case of aesthetics, one must be able to specify the kinds of featureS or aesthetic objects found to be relevant in the aesthetic experience of sophisticated adults. This is primarily a matter for the philosophy of art, or art criticism, but it does lend credence to the expert-naive paradigm in studying aesthetic judgments.


Advantages or the Test

The measurement instrument presented in this section differs from most other instruments in several important ways. It is designed to allow for ease and consistency in administration, it forces all subjects to evaluate identical aesthetic dimensions so that inter-subject comparisons are possible, it avoids lengthy oral interviews and analysis or transcripts, and lends itself to quick and objective scoring procedures. It asks respondents to make aesthetic judgments about actual works or art along specific dimensions. As Child notes: "Such a test has better initial claim to measure aesthetic development than a test whose stimuli are not works of art, and whose instructions do not direct attention to aesthetic values" (Child 1964, p. 57). This test also differs from others in that it uses a cognitive developmental perspective to identify stages of aesthetic development in subjects, and to explain differences in aesthetic judgment abilities along a developmental continuum.

Testing the Instrument

Sample. The instrument presented in this paper, the PJB test (PJBT) [Parsons, Johnston, Bamossy test.] purports to measure different levels of aesthetic judgment ability in subjects sharing the same stage of cognitive development. Thus, the sample includes subjects who differ in age buy who are all (theoretically) in the formal operational stage of cognitive development. It also includes subjects who differ in the extent of formal art training they have had. The sample consists of junior high students (n=123), high school students (n=262), university students (n=54), and art experts (n=19). The junior high and high school students come from a varied:, of social classes and were recruited from classes from three schools within the same school district of a large western metropolitan area. The university students were a convenience sample of undergraduate business and art students from a local university. The art-expert group was also a convenience sample and was comprised of subjects who were graduate students in a Master of Fine Arts program, graduates or that program or graduates of similar programs. Thus, the sample includes subjects representing different levels of cognitive maturity within the formal operational stage (using age as a surrogate indicator of stage or cognitive development), and different levels of artistic exposure and experience (using age and formal training in art as surrogate indicators.).

Stimuli and Measurement Scales. The PJBT consists of color slides of three paintings: Klee's Head of Man, Goya's The Horrors or War, and Albright's Into the World Came a Soul Named Ida. The slides are presented to subjects by projecting them onto a screen. Subjects are instructed to examine the paintings and then to record their responses to the paintings on several rating scales

For each painting there are ten, nine, and ten (respectively) statements. Items for this test were selected from typical responses gleaned from personal interviews from Parson's research (1975) defining stages of aesthetic development. In this research, some 250 children, adolescents and adults were interviewed using a variety of paintings for discussion. The three paintings which most often elicited representative statements across four topic areas were chosen for the test. These topic areas include representation, subject matter, expression, and judgment. The items selected covered parallel understanding across two stages of aesthetic judgment, and these items were tested and refined as the test was developed.

Based in the expert-naive paradigm, these statements are worded in such a fashion as to represent notions or lower or higher aesthetic worth (termed low stage and high stage respectively). Low stage and high stage statements are randomly, ordered to reduce the possibility of subjects detecting any pattern of "desirable" responses to the test. Subjects are asked to strongly agree, slightly agree, slightly disagree, or strongly disagree with each statement, after having studied the slide for two minutes. The slide is left on the screen throughout the entire response process, and subjects are occasionally reminded to refer back to the slide before responding to the statements.

Scoring. In order for subjects to remain consistent in their responses across all items, and to score high on the PJBT they must agree with high stage items, and disagree with low stage items. consistency could be achieved by agreeing with low stage items and disagreeing with high stage items, but this pattern would produce a low score on the PJBT.

Subjects are scored on the PJBT using a bi-Polar method: two points are given for strongly (dis)agreeing with a (low) high stage item; one point for slightly (dis)agreeing with a (low) high stage item, two points are subtracted for strongly (dis)agreeing with a (high) low stage item, and one point is subtracted for slightly (dis)agreeing with a (high) low stage item. [Earlier pretests using a five-point scale which allowed the subject to choose a neutral response were deemed unsatisfactory as it was unclear whether the respondent was truly neutral to an item or simply could not make up his/her mind.] Four of the PJBT test items showed very weak item-total correlations, and were excluded from the scoring, leaving 95 items, with a possible range of raw scores from -50 to +50. After examining score distributions, a constant of +25 was added to the raw scores so that all distributions would begin with positive integers.

Reliability. The reliability of an instrument can be investigated through determination of equivalence and stability (Kerlinger 1973). Equivalence requires similar instruments to produce similar results. Stability requires one instrument to yield nearly identical results when given to the same subjects twice with a brief time lapse between administration.

To test the reliability of the PJBT, the responses from the entire sample were analyzed together. The Cronbach test of reliability presents reasonably strong evidence of internal consistency for the PJBT. While the reliability coefficients for the three individual paintings range from a relatively weak .48 (for Goya) to .76 (for Klee), the overall Cronbach alpha for the PJBT is an acceptable .80 (see Table 1).



To approximate a measure of equivalence or internal consistency, the items on the PJBT were divided into two equivalent parts and each part was scored separately. Test items were numbered for each painting. The items were assigned to the two parts by selecting odd/even numbered items so that each part contained one-half of the statements pertaining to each of the three paintings. The correlation between the scores for the two parts of the data represent a measure of form-to-form fluctuation. The index of split-half reliability, the Spearman-Brown coefficient, was .82 and offers strong evidence of internal consistency for the test.

Test-retest reliability was used to assess the performance of the PJBT from one testing session to another. For this analysis, the PJBT was administered to the undergraduate business student sample and readministered to that same group three weeks later. Item correlations of test and retest responses on a subject-by-subject basis ranged between .74 and .93. The overall stability of the PJBT appears to be strong as evidenced by the test-retest coefficient of .848 (see Table 1).

Validity. In order to determine whether the PJBT measures the constructs it is designed to measure, several approaches to assessing its validity were adopted. Although content validity is not a particularly strong test, it does allow one to assess whether a test appears to measure what it is intended to measure. The scale items used in the PJBT were adapted from instruments which had been extensively tested on a wide variety of small samples. The items had been tested in conjunction with depth interviews and analyses of the interview transcripts suggest a reasonable degree of content validity for the PJBT items.

Construct validity examines the extent to which an instrument produces results that would have been predicted from relevant literature. Evidence of construct validity for this test can come from examination of group differences. Criterion group validity is demonstrated by showing that groups or subjects who ought to have different scores on a measure do in fact have different scores. Given the cognitive-developmental perspective of the PJBT, this would suggest that if the test is working in the predicted manner, scores should differ across groups of subjects of different ages and of different art backgrounds. Table 2 reports the mean, standard deviation, and range of scores for the four groups of subjects on the PJBT, as well as an analysis of variance between groups.

The data in Table 2 provide strong evidence for criterion group validity. First, even though mean scores differ based on age, the range of scores for each group indicates that subjects from lower age groups are capable of scoring as high or higher than some subjects from older age groups. This would suggest that the PJBT is not limited by a ceiling effect based on age, but rather that the PJBT is sensitive enough to allow younger subjects wit_ apparently well developed aesthetic judgment abilities to score high on the test. Second, among subjects of approximately the same age (i.e., university students and art experts), the PJBT remains sensitive to group differences expected based on different levels of formal art training across the groups.



Of the 25 items used in scoring the PJBT, an item-by-item analysis of variance (not reported here) shows that these items are all significantly different between groups, most often discriminating junior high and high school students from university students, with art experts significantly higher on all items. The PJBT appears to be very sensitive in its ability to discriminate between groups. A more detailed analysis of the data shows that there are significant differences in PJBT scores between ninth and twelfth graders, between university business students and university art students, and even between the undergraduate art students and the art experts.

The basic strategy of convergent-divergent correlational validity is to show that variables which are theoretically more similar to aesthetic judgment will have higher correlations with the PJBT than variables which are theoretically dissimilar. No measures of theoretically dissimilar constructs were taken as part of the PJBT. However, measures on another set of theoretically similar variables were obtained from the high school subjects. They were given Schroder, Driver, and Streufert's (SDS) Cognitive Integration Index Test (1967) in an attempt to assess the relationship between an individual's cognitive integrative structural level, and his/her level of aesthetic judgment ability. The correlations between high school subjects' PJBT scores and their scores on the test of cognitive integration ranged from .44 to .48 (p < .001). All of the correlations are positive, providing evidence that individuals who display a high, level of cognitive integration are also the individuals who display higher aesthetic judgment ability, as evidenced by their PJBT score. Alternatively individuals who display a low level of cognitive integration score low on the PJBT. A comparison of the SDS scale values and criteria for scoring with the PJBT's stages of aesthetic development and scoring suggests a similar theoretical basis for both measures, and their significant positive correlations provides evidence of correlational validity.

Discriminant validity examines the ability of an instrument to produce unique information not accounted for by other variables. An evaluation of the PJBT and SDS scores of high school students shows that there is useful information in PJBT scores that is not obtained from the SDS scores.

The subjects in the high school sample are all from the same school district. However, the two high schools are a reasonable surrogate indicator of subjects' social classes, with one school (n=122) over-representing higher social classes, and the other school (n=140) representing middle and lower-middle classes. Results of t-tests between subjects from the two schools (Table 3) show no differences on cognitive integration index scores, yet there is a difference on the PJBT scores, with subjects from the higher social class school scoring significantly higher than those from the middle to lower social class school. Additional data on the two samples shows that students from the higher social class school also have more positive attitudes towards the arts, have more exposure to the performing arts, have had more music/dance/art lessons, and are more likely to attend arts events in the future. All of these findings can be explained in part by social class. More importantly, the finding of no differences between groups on SDS scores coupled with significant differences on the PJBT, and strong positive correlations between the SDS and PJBT scores within subjects suggests that a higher level of cognitive integration is necessary but not sufficient for higher levels of aesthetic judgment ability.

In summary, the initial empirical results for the PJBT show strong evidence for test stability, and reasonably acceptable internal consistency. The test appears to be very sensitive in discriminating between groups with clear evidence of correlational validity and discriminant validity. Taken together, the evidence for reliability and validity suggests that the PJBT shows promise as a measure of aesthetic judgment ability, and that the cognitive-developmental perspective of the instrument provides a viable basis for explaining differences in aesthetic judgment. Since this paper reports the first empirical results of the PJBT, the case for reliability and validity needs to be established over a variety of administrations and research designs, using subjects from various age groups, social classes, cultural environments, and educational backgrounds.




The PJBT appears to be a valid, reliable, and relatively easy to administer measure of aesthetic judgment ability as it relates to the visual art form of paintings. As such, it is potentially useful in courses of art education, and in conjunction with other measures, may also be useful in improving understanding of reactions to art. For example, are there key antecedent conditions which best predict scores on the PJBT after the effects of cognitive ability are partialled-out? Do groups of individuals who score differently on the PJBT have different types of reactions to other art forms, such as a performing art, or different reactions to intangible attributes of product offerings?

Currently, the PJBT appears sensitive enough to discriminate between groups of subjects. Except for extreme scores, it would be risky to use the PJBT to predict the reactions of an individual subject. It should be kept in mind, however, that information about the average reactions of groups of people is not only of interest theoretically and as a first stage towards understanding individual differences, it can also be of practical importance. For those responsible for the design of public buildings, urban environments, mass produced objects, and works of art intended for mass audiences, predictions about group reactions--what will appeal to the greatest number of people or what will receive the highest average evaluation--are what matter.


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