Viewing challenging art lends meaning to life by stimulating integrative complexity

Henrik Hagtvedt, Kathleen D. Vohs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


What is the psychological value of consuming art? Four experiments tested whether and how art can lend meaning to life. This research relies on a rudimentary distinction between low art (presenting familiar objects in a simple, straightforward manner) and high art (presenting the same familiar objects with a dose of complexity). We predicted and found that high (vs. low) art elevates the sense that life has meaning, because it stimulates integrative complexity, a cognitive process in which disparate information is combined into unified, coherent representations. These integrated thoughts pique interest, leading to the sense of life’s meaningfulness. Moreover, the results of two experiments point to the psychological benefits of viewing low (vs. high) art, namely the sense that life is happy. It seems that the relative lack of complex, integrated thoughts stimulated by low art, along with facilitated processing fluency, befits positive feelings about one’s life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Positive Psychology
StatePublished - Sep 10 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Art
  • happiness
  • integrative complexity
  • meaning
  • processing fluency


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