- The Beauty of the Psyche and Eros Myth: Integrating Aesthetics into Introduction to Psychology
Beginning in the late 1990s we became convinced that our undergraduate psychology students needed classroom experiences that set the conditions for them to become more engaged with beauty. We recognized the intrinsic importance of beauty to human psychological development, beyond any utilitarian concerns.1 But we also believed that there were important psychological benefits to be gained by becoming increasingly engaged with beauty. In this paper we briefly describe some of those benefits that have been documented in the psychological research literature in the last decade. This paper primarily outlines a curricular recipe for infusing beauty into an Introduction to Psychology course at the undergraduate collegiate level. The course experientially affirms Winston’s argument “that beauty should be one of our core educational values” and aligns itself with Winston’s summary of Plato, Schiller, and Danto that as “beauty is a deep human need and not an option for life, then it is surely time for educationalists to rethink its place in the life of the school.”2 We did such rethinking, and the results of that curricular contemplation are described here.
The central theme of our beauty intervention in Psychology 101 is based on the Psyche and Eros myth. It is an excellent vehicle, as students instantly notice that the field of psychology shares the same name as Psyche, classically the most beautiful being in existence. During twelve weekly five-minute segments, we integrate themes of beauty from the humanities through progressively and sequentially telling the Psyche and Eros myth to the class. [End Page 97] We infuse the relevance of aesthetics to psychology by presenting artworks based on the Psyche myth in class every week. Classical, mostly romantic period, music CDs and MP3 files based on the myth are played. Onto a large screen we project images of paintings and sculptures that illustrate the myth (in particular, we use paintings that illustrate the segment of the myth that will be told during class that day). Poetry is recited that was inspired by the myth. Class discussion is directed toward the metaphorical and psychological meanings of various episodes of the Psyche story.
Situating Beauty in Introduction to Psychology
As inherited from Athens, the three ideal goals of Western civilization have been truth, beauty, and the good/ethics. In this age of deconstruction these three ideals are often examined with a suspiciously critical eye; nonetheless those three ideals continue to exert a powerful influence on human thought and action.3 Issues of truth, in the form of studying cognition and teaching the scientific method, are a large part of the curriculum in the field of psychology. Likewise, “the good,” ranging across such issues as research ethics, counseling/clinical ethics, the psychology of moral development, and the virtues emphasized in the positive psychology movement, are commonly present in the psychology curriculum. Issues of beauty, however, tend to be neglected in the field of psychology,4 and, in particular, little has been published concerning emphasizing or integrating beauty into the instruction of psychology courses. A search of “beauty” in the PsycINFO database reveals no articles in the journal Teaching of Psychology that mention beauty. There are only two articles related to the teaching of “aesthetics” in psychology courses,5 both of which are only marginally relevant to emphasizing beauty or infusing the aesthetics of the humanities into a psychology course.
As various authors who have published in the Journal of Aesthetic Education have bemoaned, there has been a steady decrease in respect and admiration for beauty among both academics and artists in the twentieth century.6 Indeed, Arthur Danto7 has documented the fall of beauty, and Elaine Scarry8 has described the humanities turning its back on beauty. However, Danto, Scarry, and others9 recognize that beauty has been reemerging as an important force in art and in the philosophy of aesthetics since the 1990s.
Research on the Psychological Benefits of Engagement with Beauty
Recent research shows that appreciation of beauty is associated with recovering from psychological disorders, especially from depression.10 Engagement with beauty has been positively correlated...