Appreciating art is all in the brain

November 21st, 2007 - 12:56 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Nov 21 (ANI): Scientists have shed light on the mechanism behind aesthetic experiences that one goes through, by addressing two key questions - Is there an objective biological basis for the experience of beauty in art? Or is aesthetic experience entirely subjective?

For the study, Cinzia Di Dio, Emiliano Macaluso and Giacomo Rizzolatti used fMRI scans to examine the neural activity in subjects with no knowledge of art criticism, who were shown images of Classical and Renaissance sculptures.

The objective perspective was studied by contrasting images of Classical and Renaissance sculptures of canonical proportions, with images of the same sculptures whose proportions were modified to produce a comparable degraded aesthetic value.

In terms of brain activations, this comparison showed that the presence of the golden ratio in the original material activated specific sets of cortical neurons as well as (crucially) the insula, a structure mediating emotions. This response was particularly apparent when participants were only required to observe the stimuli; that is, when the brain reacted most spontaneously to the images presented.

The subjective perspective was evaluated by contrasting beautiful vs. ugly sculptures, this time as judged by each participant who decided whether or not the sculpture was aesthetic. The images judged to be beautiful selectively activated the right amygdala, a structure that responds to learned incoming information laden with emotional value.

According to researchers, the results indicate that, in observers raw to art criticism, the sense of beauty is mediated by two non-mutually exclusive processes: one is based on a joint activation of sets of cortical neurons, triggered by parameters intrinsic to the stimuli, and the insula (objective beauty).

The other is based on the activation of the amygdala, driven by ones own emotional experiences (subjective beauty). The researchers conclude that both objective and subjective factors intervene in determining our appreciation of an artwork.

The study is published in this weeks PLoS ONE. (ANI)

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