Monday, 17 March 2008

Aesthetic appreciation on the line

Seeking to understand aesthetics from the perspective of brain processes is all the rage these days, and has given birth to the nascent field of neuroaesthetics. Now Valeria Drago and co-workers have shown that people who are able to more accurately bisect a line, also tend to be more emotionally sensitive to paintings.

The researchers tested the ability of 17 right-handed participants to accurately bisect 100mm horizontal lines - that is, to mark the midpoint of the lines. The participants also looked at 10 paintings by the relatively unknown abstract artist Stephen Duren, before indicating how moved they were by each picture.

The more accurate a participant was at the line bisection task, the more moved they tended to be by the pictures. Moreover, when the participants were divided into two groups according to their accuracy at the line task, it was those in the more accurate group who were more emotionally affected by the paintings.

Valeria Drago at University Florida College and her truly international team of colleagues, based in Italy, Argentina, Korea, Japan and New Zealand, said this pattern of findings was consistent with the idea that the right hemisphere of the brain is associated both with attentional skills (underlying accurate line bisection) and the perception of emotion.

"For subjects to obtain the full evocative impact, it might have been important for the viewer to be attentive to the entire painting and this might explain why the [more accurate line bisection group] experienced a greater evocative impact," the researchers said.

A flaw in the study is that participants were asked to rate their emotional response to the paintings by marking a point on a horizontal line from little emotional impact on the left, to high impact on the right - a similar procedure to the line bisection task. However, in the bisection task, the less accurate participants tended to mark the midpoint further to the right than the more accurate participants, so if anything they should have shown a bias towards rating the paintings as more emotionally evocative. "It might be useful for future research to...use verbal ratings of evocative impact," the researchers said.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchDRAGO, V., FINNEY, G., FOSTER, P., AMENGUAL, A., JEONG, Y., MIZUNO, T., CRUCIAN, G., HEILMAN, K. (2008). Spatial-attention and emotional evocation: Line bisection performance and visual art emotional evocation. Brain and Cognition, 66(2), 140-144. DOI: 10.1016/j.bandc.2007.06.005

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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