Physiological Comparison of Embodied Aesthetic Experience in Subjects on Ketamine.


  • Lynn Tessa Süthoff University of Vienna


For over six decades, ketamine has served as a widely used anesthetic [1], acting as a non-competitive antagonist of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors within the glutamatergic system. Primarily employed in emergency medicine with bronchodilatory properties, ketamine has recently garnered attention for its non-anesthetic applications, with around 800 clinical trials exploring its diverse therapeutic potential. Notably, its rapid antidepressant effects have emerged as a focal point, manifesting within two hours post-administration, peaking at 24 hours, and persisting for 7-14 days  [1]. This sustained impact, capable of mitigating anhedonia symptoms, positions ketamine as an intervention to restore hedonic functioning in individuals grappling with depression.

The overarching goal of the study that this thesis is embedded within was to explore the relationship between ketamine and hedonic responses in aesthetics among a healthy sample. In this randomized study, conducted in a single-blind, monocenter setting and employing a complete within-subject design, participants received both a ketamine infusion (0.5mg/kg) and a placebo (saline solution). While undergoing MRI scans and physiological parameter monitoring, participants listened to a curated selection of 20 self-chosen songs. Subsequently, they rated these songs on three distinct scales: "Aesthetically Moving", "Chills", and "Valence". Physiological assessments encompassed data gathered via a respiration belt, enabling the analysis of intra-individual differences in breathing patterns (breath depth, respiration rate, and cycle duration). 

Based on the assumption that aesthetic experiences are embodied [2], this thesis set out to assess the physiological synchrony to the experience of aesthetics in an individual. The analytic strategy will be to relate the respiratory cycles to the individuals report of experiencing “chills” in response to aesthetic stimuli. Thereby, the research seeks to investigate how the embodiment of aesthetic experiences changes when an individual is under the influence of ketamine. Through this analysis, the thesis aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of the connection between the body and aesthetic experience.

In addition to the aforementioned objectives, the thesis aims to propose a new study design based on the implications derived from the analysis of the collected data. Building upon the work of Tschacher and Meier [3], the study aims to investigate the change in physiological synchrony in participants aesthetic experience under the influence of ketamine. The study will emphasize the importance of exploring induction and interaction synchrony in understanding embodied aesthetic experience. In summary, exploring the effects of ketamine in various domains impacts its usage as a clinical treatment for different populations.


[1] A. Pribish, N. Wood, and A. Kalava, “A Review of Nonanesthetic Uses of Ketamine,” Anesthesiology Research and Practice, vol. 2020, pp. 1–15, Apr. 2020, doi:   [2] W. Tschacher et al., “Physiological synchrony in audiences of live concerts.,” Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, Sep. 2021, doi:   [3] W. Tschacher and D. Meier, “Physiological synchrony in psychotherapy sessions,” Psychotherapy Research, pp. 1–16, May 2019, doi: