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VAST Discussion, Round 1

  1. A Problem of Order by Gerhard Stemberger
  2. K.O. Götz and the Psychology of Gestalt Perception by Herbert Fitzek
  3. Is the Visual Aesthetic Sensitivity Test (still) relevant to psychology researchers? by Nils Myszkowski
  4. Discussion on VAST by Riccardo Luccio
  5. The VAST in Psychology today by Thomas Jacobsen, Barbara E. Marschallek, Selina M. Weiler
  6. A designer’s view of (and qualms about) the VAST by Roy R. Behrens

4. Discussion on VAST

Text: Riccardo Luccio

Abstract: VAST can be important for a theory of perception, demonstrating the existence of a specific mental ability for the perception of figural goodness. Secondly, it shows that for a figure to be pregnant it need not be simple.

What can VAST say to a general theory of perception? These reflections, however, turn to VAST-R, the recent revision of VAST made by Myszkowski and Storme, an instrument, in this form, psychometrically completely reliable and valid. It is in particular to the validity of the VAST-R, given by its more than satisfactory one-dimensional nature, that we turn our attention. The validity of a test must be considered the criterion of existence of the mental ability that it measures. One-dimensionality indicates that the test measures one and only one skill. This ability is called Eysenck’s T, but what T actually is must be discussed.

Now, contrary to what aesthetics scholars may think, the most interesting aspect of VAST is given by the fact that in the instructions to the subjects any reference to the beauty of the observed table is specifically eliminated. The subject must instead choose in each couple the “superior from the point of view of design”, “more harmonious”, “better balanced”, and so on. These are expressions that all refer to that property of perception said Prägnanz in the tradition of Gestalttheory? [in the Gestaltist tradition Prägnanz]. It should therefore be stressed the importance that VAST demonstrates that a specific mental ability for the appreciation of this property exists, and with its own uniqueness. And therefore that this property should not be confused with beauty, a very difficult concept to study empirically, linked as it is to social factors determined historically and culturally.

But another aspect must be underlined. Whatever the definition we can give to the expression “perceptual simplicity”, the VAST tables are far from simple. This is important theoretically, because contemporary scientific psychology, especially cognitivism, has shown a marked tendency to identify Prägnanz with simplicity. VAST is a further empirical demonstration of the erroneousness of this identification: a perception can be prägnant even if complex, provided it is balanced, harmonious, good in the Gestalt sense – goodness is very difficult to define, by admission of the Gestalt scholars themselves, but patently clear to recognize when faced with it.

In conclusion, I believe that scholars of perception would make a serious mistake if in future research the opportunities offered by VAST were missed. Among the many possibilities, I indicate at least three directions in which VAST could effectively support other empirical research tools: 1) research on the coding of visual forms, such as in research on the so-called descriptive length; 2) evolutionary research on perceptual maturity and neuropsychological impairment of perception – it is extraordinary that many psychometrics manuals are still on certainly more imperfect instruments such as the Bender Gestalt test, and not even mention the VAST; 3) the VAST-R, unlike previous versions, is one-dimensional – but what are the dimensions it has excluded? However, it is clear that each of these points should deserve a long discussion.

Back | Go to The VAST in Psychology today by Thomas Jacobsen, Barbara E. Marschallek, Selina M. Weiler

How to cite this article

w/k-Redaktion (2020): VAST Discussion, Round 1. w/k–Between Science & Art Journal. https://doi.org/10.55597/e6145

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