From the Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2014
“The human brain is built for art appreciation, suggests a meta-analysis that looked at studies mapping brain processes linked to the arts.
Viewing paintings engages a number of different regions of the brain, suggesting art appreciation is a natural biological process, according to the report in the June issue of the journal Brain and Cognition. The study found that paintings activated areas of the brain involved in vision, pleasure, memory, recognition and emotions, in addition to systems that underlie the conscious processing of new information to give it meaning.
A meta-analysis at the University of Toronto pooled data from 15 studies conducted from 2004 to 2012 in seven countries. The studies involved a total of 330 participants ages 18 to 59 who viewed paintings by unknown and famous artists while in MRI scanners. Participants were instructed to make aesthetic judgments in about two-thirds of the studies; they were free to view the images as they pleased in the other studies.
Viewing paintings activated regions of the visual cortex, which processes visual information. This activity may be attributed to processing shapes and colors, the researchers said. The fusiform gyrus and parahippocampal gyrus, brain regions associated with the perception and recognition of objects and places, were highlighted, possibly by familiar faces and landscapes, the study suggests.
The anterior temporal lobe, which conceptualizes information about objects and how they function, was also involved, indicating viewing paintings may trigger higher-order mental processing, researchers said.
Also activated were the posterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula, areas associated with inner thoughts and emotional experiences, and the putamen, which regulates movements and influences learning. This could signal experienced or anticipated pleasure from viewing paintings.
Caveat: Subjects viewed artworks inside the confined space of MRI scanners, a noisy environment not typically associated with viewing paintings. Some studies involved computerized images of paintings.”
Original Study published as: Vartanian O, and Skov M. (2014) “Neural correlates of viewing paintings: evidence from a quantitative meta-analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging data,” Brain Cogn. 2014 Jun;87:52-6. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2014.03.004. Epub 2014 Apr 4.