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Using Neuroscience to Better Appreciate Art

By Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on May 29, 2013

Using Neuroscience to Better Appreciate ArtHow does one person decide if they like a work of art? Is it your own innate taste or what you have been taught that decides?

New research suggests both perspectives are important and that each should be combined to appropriately value the work.

Neuroscientists believe that biological processes in the brain determine whether one likes a work of art or not. Historians and philosophers say that this is far too narrow a viewpoint.

They believe that what you know about the artist’s intentions, when the work was created, and other external factors, also affect how you experience a work of art.

A new model that combines both the historical and the psychological approach has been developed.

“We think that both traditions are just as important, although incomplete. We want to show that they complement each other,” said Dr. Rolf Reber, professor of psychology at the University of Bergen.

Together with Nicolas Bullot, Ph.D., of Macquarie University in Australia, he has developed a new model to help us better appreciate art. Study results are published in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Neuroscientists often measure brain activity to find out how much an individual likes a work of art, without investigating whether he or she actually understands the work. This is insufficient, as artistic understanding also affects assessment, Reber said.

Previous research showed that a painting that is difficult — yet possible — to interpret, is felt to be more meaningful than a painting that one looks at and understands immediately.

Several artists exemplify this technique, including painters Eugène Delacroix (to depict war) and J.M.W. Turner in “Snow Storm.”

When you have to struggle to understand, you can have an eye-opening experience, which the brain appreciates, according to Reber.

Reber’s research combined measuring brain activity, interviewing test persons about thoughts and reactions, and charting their artistic knowledge. He believes this multifactorial approach helps researcher’s gain new and exciting insight into what makes people appreciate good works of art.

The model can be used for visual art, music, theatre and literature, Reber said.

Source: The University of Bergen

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APA Reference
Nauert, R. (2013). Using Neuroscience to Better Appreciate Art. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/05/29/using-neuroscience-to-better-appreciate-art/55366.html