Journal of Human Sport and Exercise

The aesthetics of the experts - On the relationship of observers’ and performers’ expertise when perceiving motion aesthetics in freerunning skills

Pia Maria Vinken, Vincent Stirling, Thomas Heinen



An observer’s perception of motion aesthetics strongly relies on the interplay between aspects of the motion stimuli, the sensory and motor expertise of the observer, and the context in which the stimuli are perceived. However, whether a fit in observers’ and performers’ sensory and motor expertise can boost aesthetic motion perception when observing complex motor skills, is still to be investigated. Thus, it was hypothesized that a fit between observers’ and performers’ sensory and motor expertise could boost aesthetic motion perception of complex motor skills. Expert and intermediate freerunners performed three different freerunning skills. Observers with varying levels of expertise were asked to indicate their perception of motion aesthetics when observing video sequences of expert and intermediate freerunning skill performances. Results indicate that a fit between observers’ and performers’ sensory and motor expertise levels does not boost aesthetic motion perception. In contrast, motor skill performances of expert freerunners are perceived as more aesthetically than intermediate freerunning performances from all three observer groups: expert freerunning observers, intermediate freerunning observers, and laypeople. Instead of a fit between the performer’s and the observer’s sensory and motor expertise, it is argued that object-driven parameters of a complex motor skill performance seem to be related to a rather universal embodied aesthetic motion perception.


Biological motion perception; Empirical aesthetics; Likert-scales; Artistic sports


Aglioti, S. M., Minio-Paluello, I., & Candini, M. (2012). The beauty of the body. Rend Fis Acc Lincei, 23, 281-288.

Blake, R., & Shiffrar, M. (2007). Perception of human motion. Annu Rev Psychol, 58, 47-73.

Brielmann, A. A., & Pelli, D. G. (2018). Aesthetics. Curr Biol, 28(16), 859-863.

Bronner, S., & Shippen, J. (2015). Biomechanical metrics of aesthetic perception in dance. Exp Brain Res, 233, 3565-3581.

Calvo-Merino, B., Ehrenberg, S., Leung, D. M. H., & Haggard, P. (2010). Experts see it all: configural effects in action observation. Psychol Res, 74(4), 400-406.

Calvo-Merino, B., Glaser, D. E., Grèzes, J., Passingham, R. E., & Haggard, P. (2005). Action observation and acquired motor skills: An fMRI study with expert dancers. Cerebral Cortex, 15, 1243-1249.

Calvo-Merino, B., Jola, C., Glaser, D. E., & Haggard, P. (2008). Towards a sensorimotor aesthetics of performing art. Conscious Cogn, 17, 911-922.

Candini, M., & Aglioti, S. M. (2015). Visual and sensorimotor contribution to the esthetic appraisal of body form, motion, and emotion. Eur Psychol, 20(1), 16-26.

Chatterjee, A., & Vartanian, O. (2014). Neuroaesthetics. Trends Cogn Sci, 18(7), 370-375.

Christensen, J. F., & Calvo-Merino, B. (2013). Dance as a subject for empirical aesthetics. Psychol Aesthet Creat Arts, 7(1), 76-88.

Cross, E., Kirsch, L., Ticini, L. F., & Schütz-Bosbach, S. (2011). The impact of aesthetic evaluation and physical ability on dance perception. Front Hum Neurosci, 5, 1-10.

Cutting, J. E. (2006). The mere exposure effect and aesthetic preference. In P. Locher, C. Martindale, & L. Dorfman (Eds.). New directions in aesthetics, creativity, and the psychology of art. (pp. 33-46). Baywood Publishing.

Di Dio, C., & Gallese, V. (2009). Neuroaesthetics: a review. Curr Opin Neurobiol, 19, 682-687.

FIG (2019). 2019-2021 Code of Points – Parkour. Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique.

Iglesias Gallego, D., Garcia Gonzales, L., Garcia Calvo, T., Del Barco, B. L., & Del Villar Álvarez, F. (2010). Expertise development in sport: contributions under cognitive psychology perspective. J Hum Sport Exerc, 5(3), 462-475.

Jacobsen, T. (2006). Bridging the arts and sciences. A framework for the psychology of aesthetics. Leonardo, 39(2), 155-162.

Jacobsen, T., Buchta, K., Köhler, M., & Schröger, E. (2004). The primacy of beauty in judging the aesthetics of objects. Psychol Rep, 94, 1253-1260.

Jola, C., Abedian-Amiri, A., Kuppuswamy, A., Pollick, F. E., & Grosbras, M-H. (2012). Motor simulation without motor expertise: enhanced corticospinal excitability in visually experienced dance spectators. PLoS One, 7(3), 1-12.

Kirk, U., Skov, M., Hulme, O., Christensen, M. S., & Zeki, S. (2009). Modulation of aesthetic value by semantic context: an fMRI study. Neuroimage, 44, 1125-1132.

Kirsch, L. P., Drommelschmidt, K. A., Cross, E. S. (2013). The impact of sensorimotor experience on affective evaluation of dance. Front Hum Neurosci, 7(521), 1-10.

Kirsch, L. P., Urgesi, C., & Cross, E. S. (2016). Shaping and reshaping the aesthetic brain: emerging perspectives on the neurobiology of embodied aesthetics. Neurosci Biobehav R, 62, 56-68.

Leder, H., & Nadal, M. (2014). Ten years of a model of aesthetic appreciation and aesthetic judgments: the aesthetic episode - Developments and challenges in empirical aesthetics. Br J Psychol, 105, 443-464.

Leiner, D. J. (2018). SoSci Survey (Version 3.0.00) [Computer software]. Available at

Loula, F., Prasad, S., Harber, K., & Shiffrar, M. (2005). Recognizing people from their movement. J Exp Psychol Human, 31(1), 210-220.

Millis, K. (2001). Making meaning brings pleasure: the influence of titles on aesthetic experiences. Emotion, 1(3), 320-329.

Montero, B. (2012). Practice makes perfect: the effect of dance training on the aesthetic judge. Phenom Cogn Sci, 11, 59-68.

Orgs, G., Calvo-Merino, B., & Cross, E (2018). Knowing dance or knowing how to dance? Sources of expertise in aesthetic appreciation of human movement. In B. Bläsing, M. Puttke, & T. Schack (Eds.). The neurocognition of dance: mind, movement, and motor skill (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Orgs, G., Hagura, N., & Haggard, P. (2013). Learning to like it: aesthetic perception of bodies, movements and choreographic structure. Conscious Cogn, 22, 603-612.

Palmer, S. E., Schloss, K. B., & Sammartino, J. (2013). Visual aesthetics and human preference. Annu Rev Psychol, 64, 77-107.

Pearce, M. T., Zaidel, D. W., Vartanian, O., Skov, M., Leder, H., Chatterjee, A., & Nadal, M. (2016). Neuroaesthetics: the cognitive neuroscience of aesthetic experience. Perspect Psychol Sci, 11(2), 265-279.

Pelowski, M., Markey, P. S., Forster, M., Gerger, G., & Leder, H. (2017). Move me, astonish me… delight my eyes and brain: the Vienna integrated model of top-down and bottom-up processes in art perception (VIMAP) and corresponding affective, evaluative, and neurophysiological correlates. Phys Life Rev, 21, 80-125.

Ramachandran, V. S., & Hirstein, W. (1999). The science of art - A neurological theory of aesthetic experience. J Conscious Stud, 6(6-7), 15-51.

Redies, C. (2015). Combining universal beauty and cultural context in a unifying model of visual aesthetic experience. Front Hum Neurosci, 9(218). 1-20.

Sato, N., Nunome, H., & Ikegami, Y. (2014). Key features of hip hop dance motions affect evaluation by judges. J Appl Biomech, 30, 439-445.

Schmidt, R. A., Lee, T. D., Winstein, C. J., Wulf, G., & Zelaznik, H. N. (2017). Motor control and learning (6th ed.). Human Kinetics.

Seidel, A., & Prinz, J. (2018). Great works: a reciprocal relationship between spatial magnitudes and aesthetic judgement. Psychol Aesthet Creat Arts, 12(1), 2-10.

Stevens, C., Winskel, H., Howell, C., Vidal, L.-M., Latimer, C., & Milne-Home, J. (2010). Perceiving dance: schematic expectations guide experts’ scanning of a contemporary dance film. J Dance Med Sci, 14(1), 19-25.

Thomas, J. R., Nelson, J. K., & Silverman, S. J. (2015). Research methods in physical activity (7th ed.). Human Kinetics.

Ticini, L. F., Urgesi, C., Calvo-Merino, B. (2014). Embodied aesthetic: insight from cognitive neuroscience of the performing arts. In A. Scarinzi (ed.). Aesthetics and the embodied mind: beyond art theory and the cartesian mind-body dichotomy. (pp 103-115). Springer.

Tinio, P. P. L., & Leder, H. (2009). Just how stable are stable aesthetic features? Symmetry, complexity, and the jaws of massive familiarization. Acta Psychol, 130, 241-250.

Vinken, P. M., & Heinen, T. (2020). Perceived aesthetic features differentiating between complex artistic dance skills of varying style. Sci Gymnast J, 12(2), 119-113.

Witfield, J., Gerling, I. E., & Pach, A (2013). The ultimate parkour and freerunning book. Meyer & Meyer.

Zamparo, P., Carrara, S., & Cesari, P. (2017). Movement evaluation of front crawl swimming: technical skill versus aesthetic quality. PLoS One, 12(9), 1-12.

Zamparo, P., Zorzi, E., Marcantoni, S., & Cesari, P. (2015). Is beauty in the eyes of the beholder? Aesthetic quality versus technical skill in movement evaluation of Tai Chi. PLoS One, 10(6), 1-13.


Copyright (c) 2018 Journal of Human Sport and Exercise

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.