Understanding the power of art on the brain

The power of a painting to trigger myriad emotional and cognitive responses has been recognised throughout history. But how and why art has such a profound effect on our brains is a mystery that is only now starting to be unravelled, thanks to EU-funded research.

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Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  French Polynesia
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Published: 28 May 2018  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
Health & life sciencesNeuroscience
Human resources & mobilityMarie Curie Actions
Countries involved in the project described in the article
Austria
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Understanding the power of art on the brain

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© peshkova #200634982, 2018. Source: fotolia.com

Studies conducted at the University of Vienna by Marie Curie fellow Matthew Pelowski have contributed to the formation of the Vienna Integrated Model of Art Perception, a holistic framework within which the multiple cognitive processes underlying art viewing can be systematically organised.

The project’s results include a comprehensive dataset of specific impacts of brain regions on art experience. More than understanding different people’s reactions to a Picasso or a Rembrandt, the research provides important insights into neuroaesthetics and the psychology of art, potentially advancing the use of art therapy to treat neurological and psychiatric disorders.

In the EU-funded ART AND BRAIN project, Pelowski and fellow researchers used transcranial magnetic stimulation - in which a magnetic field causes electric current to flow in a small region of the brain - to study people as they viewed works of art. The researchers systematically manipulated three key brain regions associated with processing sensory information - the prefrontal, temporal and parietal lobes. They then recorded the test subjects’ cognitive, emotional and evaluative reactions through a specially designed survey and assessed them using Pelowski’s cognitive model.

The approach focuses on understanding not just the bottom-up cognitive processes derived from features of the artwork itself, such as its form or attractiveness, but also the top-down mechanisms that the viewer applies as a result, driven by their own memory, context and personality. The model can therefore describe how different cognitive processes impact the experience, and thus how an individual may come to particularly moving, disturbing, transformative or simply mundane interpretations of what they are viewing.

ART AND BRAIN, which received funding from the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions programme, has also contributed to expanding an established centre of research at the University of Vienna focused on the empirical aesthetics field of psychology.

Project details

  • Project acronym: ART AND BRAIN
  • Participants: Austria (Coordinator)
  • Project N°: 655379
  • Total costs: € 178 156
  • EU contribution: € 178 156
  • Duration: July 2015 to June 2017

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