Imaginative Resistance, Empirically Investigated

Imaginative resistance, as a rough first pass, refers to a phenomenon in which people resist engaging in particular prompted imaginative activities. The phenomenon is most easily seen via an (alleged) asymmetry: while people typically have no trouble imagining things like flying superheroes and time travelers, they do typically have trouble imagining things like morally good female infanticides. (You can read a more comprehensive overview here.)

Back in 2009, when I was still a PhD student, I worked with psychologist Nina Strohminger and psychiatrist/philosopher Chandra Sekhar Sripada to try to empirically study the phenomenon. Now, finally, this work is coming out in British Journal of Aesthetics. We make two main claims in the paper. First, we argue that the study results show that genre is an important–if overlooked–factor for explaining imaginative resistance. Second, we argue that the recognition of genre’s role can help us understand a debate about whether imaginative resistance is a real phenomenon or merely one of philosophers’ creation.

Speaking for myself, I want to emphasize that I really see this as just a first step in investigating an empirically-tractable phenomenon in philosophical aesthetics. Hopefully, there will be future works that uncover other factors that can help to explain imaginative resistance, and perhaps even future works that moderate our findings.

[MOVED TO FRONT Nov 13: The published article can be accessed free of charge here. The cleaned and anonymized dataset can be accessed on here. #openxphi!]

[MOVED TO FRONT Dec 01: We have uploaded a brief note that reports an alternative analysis of Study 1’s data.]

Related Research Output:

Shen-yi Liao, Nina Strohminger, Chandra Sekhar Sripada (2014). Empirically Investigating Imaginative Resistance. British Journal of Aesthetics 54(3): 339–355. DOI:10.1093/aesthj/ayu027