08/09/2013 04:47 pm ET

Behavioural Economics: The Utility Of Bad Art | The Economist


THE father of consumer choice theory, Alfred Marshall, believed that the more of something you have the less of it you want: a phenomenon economists call diminishing marginal utility. However this was only taken to be the case for an individual at one point in time, not over his entire life. Addiction could prompt us to learn to like something if we consume more of it. Marshall picked out good music as an example. The more we listen to good music, the more we want to buy.

Modern economists are more skeptical about our aesthetic judgement. The mere exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon where the more someone is exposed to a stimulus the more they like it, irrespective of its characteristics. This result has been documented across subjects as wide as food, political opinions, nonsense words and music. In all these examples familiarity was sufficient to create positive feelings.

A study by James Cutting applied this observation to aesthetics.

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