Why we sometimes change perfectly adequate wallpaper

D.E. Berlyne’s Aesthetics and Psychobiology (Berlyne 1971) summarized the state of psychological aesthetics and inspired considerable research since it was published. Following Berlyne, Colin Martindale has conducted many experiments attempting to establish universal patterns of stylistic change in art (Martindale 1990). In a varied series of studies conducted since the late 1960s, Martindale and his colleagues have shown that artistic change in all cultures rests not on an instinctive “will to innovate” but rather on a universal human desire to avoid repetition and boredom. The craving for novelty is based on well-known psychological principles of habituation, the principle that predicts the tenth mouthful of an interesting and delicious food will not be as piquant as the first, that people will sometimes change perfectly adequate wallpaper, and that ten Vivaldi concertos in a row may well prove tedious. Martindale calls habituation “the single force that has pushed art always in a consistent direction ever since the first work of art was made.” It is the universal mainspring of artistic change.

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