#IDIBELLseminars: A computational model of sensory value

Aenne Brielmann

Max-Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics



Sala de Graus UB – Bellvitge


Where do you want to live? With whom? Do you like that image or swipe it away? Numerous decisions, big and small, partly depend on options’ sensory appeal. Yet, we have a poor understanding of how sensory experiences gain their value and how these values influence our decisions.
We propose the theory that sensory value is a signal that serves the greater goal of maintaining and adapting the states of the cognitive-sensory system in order to process stimuli effectively now and in the future. Two interlinked components generate an object’s aesthetic value: 1) processing fluency – the likelihood of a stimulus given an observer’s state; 2) learning – the change in the average likelihood of expected future stimuli.
We test a realization of this theory in three studies. First, a simulation study shows that our model can replicate effects of exposure and familiarity. Second, our model can capture liking judgments on a trial-by-trial basis (median r=0.65) and outperforms predictions based on population averages (median r=0.01) in a simple image rating task (N=59). Third, we test whether our model’s predictions hold true when we control the initial and expected likelihood of stimulus features by asking people to rate a set of unfamiliar objects that we created to parametrically manipulate their features.
In brief, we show that our computational model of sensory value can predict individual aesthetic judgments and their change over time. We thus lay the foundation for investigating the role of sensory values in decision-making.

Hosted by Antoni Rodriguez Fornells – Cognition and Brain Plasticity group


Aenne Brielmann is a postdoctoral researcher at the Max-Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics. She studied Psychology at the University of Konstanz and received her PhD from New York University. Her research tackles the questions of why and how people value sensory experiences like watching movies or listening to music. She takes an interdisciplinary approach, collaborating with philosophers, mathematicians, computer scientists, and architects. When she is not busy investigating the workings of the human mind, she can be found trail running in the woods or drawing comics.

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