The Shape of Aesthetic Quality: Professional Film Critics’ Rating Distributions

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Abstract

This study applied a procedure previously used to study music critics to a second area of aesthetics, that is, films. In this way it was discovered that film critics’ rating behavior in many ways paralleled music critics’ rating behavior. Potential quantitative markers of rating refinement were tested by analyzing frequency distributions of film ratings. We randomly selected 1,000 films from film critic books that contained quantitative ratings, and analyzed critics’ ratings in terms of histograms and related statistics. Similar to findings with music critics, we found that film critic pairs showed moderately high consensus in their ratings (average r = +.60), and as a group, showed a mound-shaped rating distribution approaching normality (N = 3601 ratings). Unlike any previous film research, individual film critics’ rating distributions were also examined. The findings paralleled rating distribution characteristics found among music critics, suggesting that expert judgments of quality in 2 different aesthetic domains tend to follow similar mound shaped rating patterns, wherein the majority of works are perceived as moderate in quality and greater and greater extremes of quality are perceived as less and less common. These findings do not fit with any “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” stance, at least when it comes to professionals.

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