2004 Conference on Neuroesthetics


The Brain, Emotion and Aesthetic Judgements
Ray Dolan
I will outline our current understanding of the brain systems that underpin emotional experience. I will draw on a distinction between what is termed emotion and its subjective experiential component often referred to as feeling states. I will argue that aesthetic and emotional perception share common psychological mechanisms and neural representation. Aesthetic perceptions merge with core emotional components that represent fundamental elements of consciousness.

Steps Toward an Evolutionary Psychology of Emotion
Dan Fessler

Focusing on the paired emotions, shame and pride, this talk will explore how emotions can be understood as adaptations, that is, mechanisms produced by natural selection. An examination of the forms and functions of these emotions reveals both deep evolutionary roots and attributes unique to humans, a species remarkable for the extent to which it engages in cooperation.

Embodied Aesthetics: A Neuropsychological Perspective
Arthur P. Shimamura

Art and aesthetics are essentially human endeavors. As such, questions about art and its evaluation are inextricably linked to neurocognitive processes---how we perceive, think, and feel. In this paper, I invoke the term, embodied aesthetics, which suggests that aesthetics is inherently ingrained within and cannot be separated from neuropsychological principles. A new theory of embodied aesthetics is proposed which identifies three primary aspects of aesthetics--perception, memory, emotion. Historically, from early objective art to post-modern art, analyses have emphasized (or de-emphasized) the relevance placed on these three primary aspects. The theory of embodied aesthetics suggests that the epitome of aesthetic evaluation occurs when all three aspects--perception, memory, and emotion--are heightened.

Emotion, Transformation Through Art and Neurological Coincidents
Dennis M. Dake, Ann Marie Barry

What is the emotional system of the brain and how does art tap its power? What are the neurological processes that support personal creative transformation? The role that emotion plays in artistic creative experiences has long been a topic of exploration by theorists, critics, historians, and artists themselves. With increasing scientific research of the underlying neurological substrates of the brain, possible correlations between lived artistic experience and established scientific knowledge are beginning to emerge. This presentation will explore two case studies of undergraduate art students experiencing life altering experiences in the art studio. The two presenters, specialists in visual studies, offer an exploratory investigation of one important role of emotion can play in artistic life from the twin perspectives of the visual arts and the humanities.

Art, Emotion and the Brain: The Historical Dimension
David Freedberg

The history of art has paid little attention to beholders’ emotional responses to works of art (though from time to time it has been concerned with the expression of emotions within the works themselves). It has paid even less attention to the brain processes that underlie both perception and emotional response. While neuroscience has been slow to come to grips with the emotions, the history of art has been slower still, despite the abundance of evidence it has to offer. I shall give some examples from the history of painting where it seems possible to derive quite specific conclusions about the relations between vision, body and brain in the evocation of emotion.

On the Neurobiology of Creativity and Emotion
Rosa-Aurora Chávez, Carlos Cruz, Ariel Graff

Art, science, philosophy, and technology have their foundation in the human characteristic known as creativity, which is important for social survival and individual wellbeing, as well as being strongly linked to emotional states. To understand the neurobiological processes involved in creativity is a challenge for researchers. We have tried to make a beginning in this direction by studying the genetic variations related to creativity and emotion, and relate them to brain activations during the performance of a creative task.
Assessments of the creativity index, the temperament and character traits and the over-excitabilities profile were done in one hundred subjects. 40 of these were recognized artists and/or scientists with sustained achievement in their fields. We determined the genotypes of the serotonin transporter gene (5’SLC6A4) and the dopamine receptor gene (DRD4). There was a significant association between the short allele of the 5’SLC6A4 gene and harm-avoidance and novelty-seeking temperament traits, and the same genetic variant showed an association with high emotional over-excitability. We also observed a significant association between the variation of the DRD4 gene and the sensual over-excitability, and a modest significant association between the presence of allele 7 and the verbal creativity index. To our knowledge this is the first research studying molecular genetic variations associated to creativity. Cerebral Blood Flow measures were obtained in 12 of these individuals during the performance of the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (verbal). Highly creative individuals had significantly higher activation in right and left cerebellum and in right and left frontal and temporal lobes, confirming inter-hemispheric interactions during the performance of creative tasks. We found higher activation in structures that have an important role in emotional response, especially the the medio-frontal gyrus, which is involved in the representation of subjective emotional inner states. Creativity involves the conscious experience of emotion and the integration of cognition and emotion, affect and meaning.

The Techniques of Emotion
Anna Winestein

There are two parties in the experience of art—artist and audience—so the emotions evoked by an artwork depend on both creator and viewer. The conscious and subconscious feelings of the artist, which are contained in the artwork, impose themselves on the viewer to some degree; but the viewer also projects his own sentiment on the work, drawing on his individual experience and associations. Consequently, when examining the techniques of emotion, we must consider two aspects: the means purposely used by the artist to convey his feelings, and the devices that inadvertently arouse empathy in the eye of the beholder. These devices can be classified into four basic categories: line, color, composition and convention. Although even the associations of colors and linear styles change with society and era, the most vulnerable to the vagaries of time is convention—gestures and other symbolic details, which are dictated by custom and fashion. Based on the writings of artists and art historians as well as visual analysis of the artworks themselves, I propose to broadly examine the range of techniques used by artists of different cultures throughout history to provoke emotion. I also hope to trace how our responses to these visual cues have evolved or remained constant. Only by considering the cross-cultural constants of visual experience can we discover the manifestation of neurological nature rather than nurture in art.

Patterns that Connect--the Self-Organizing Landscape and the Brain
Robert Steinberg

I will describe a new way to create art that evokes a rich variety of perceptions and emotions by using a medium that can self-organize and provide feedback. The evolving patterns reflect a natural order that invites artist participation and control, producing a sense of recognition in the brain that is heightened by the excitement of the unexpected. Most images are complex, nonrepeating, nonrandom and fractal--and are created by maintaining the medium as an open system far from equilibrium (energy and matter are added). Feelings of wonder during the act of painting, provide a robust, though temporary shield against self- doubt.

This approach to painting uses ideas from a new field in science called Soft Condensed Matter Physics. The dynamic qualities of soft matter seem to be tailor-made for art, conferring the spontaneous formation of coherent order and unprecedented flow properties on fluids. Artists now have a new way to challenge their imagination using an endless array of patterns that capture the aggregate artistry of nature.

Aesthetically motivated curiosity, that most important stimulus to discovery for early artisans, may be about to make a comeback. I will show several slides of paintings that exemplify this new concept.

Naturalizing Aesthetics: the neurophysiology of aesthetic experience
William Seeley

Recent advances in our understanding of the psychological processes underlying perception has encouraged cognitive scientists and like-minded philosophers to turn their attention towards art and the problems of philosophical aesthetics. This "cognitive turn," which I call The Constructivist Hypothesis, does not represent an entirely novel paradigm in the study of art. Alexander Baumgarten originally introduced the term "aesthetics" to refer to a science of perception. Since artists are concerned with culling the structural features necessary for constructing clear perceptual representations from the dense flux of appearances, Baumgarten identified art as a field whose interests overlapped with aesthetics. But, interestingly, he did not associate aesthetics with an interest in either the nature of art or its socio-cultural importance.

I argue that this raises a problem for the cognitive turn in philosophical aesthetics. Whereas this new work can explain how we perceive the content of artworks, it does not explain what makes that content artistically interesting. Therefore, the challenge for these new studies is to tie the perceptual practices of artists and viewers to their more broadly construed aesthetic, or artistic, practices. I examine three studies in neuroesthetics and then evaluate whether a turn to the role of emotion in aesthetic experience can bridge the gap between perceptual and aesthetic practice.

The Neural Correlates of Love and Beauty
Semir Zeki

Romantic and maternal love are linked to beauty, and all three constitute emotional states that have provided powerful motivating factors for human conduct and action. Human brain imaging studies show that there are large overlapping areas of the brain that are implicated in romantic and maternal love, and which contain high densities of the neuro-hormones vasopressin and oxytocin. Each type of love has, as well, brain regions that are specific to it. Common sites in the reward system of the brain are also implicated during the experience of love and beauty, and a characteristic of these sites is that the intensity of activity in them is directly related to the reported subjective feeling of beauty.

The Third International Conference on Neuroesthetics
January 10, 2004