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Psychological Traits May Impact How We Look at Art

Psychological Traits May Impact How We Look at Art

The same piece of artwork can elicit completely different responses among various observers. Now a new Australian study reveals that psychological traits may play a significant role in how a person looks at art.

For the study, participants were psychologically evaluated in relation to their personality and then asked to look at abstract art pictures. They were then told to rate the pictures and to consider how much they would pay for them. The participants’ eye movements were tracked as they looked at the images.

The findings reveal that while the general observer tends to concentrate in the upper right quadrant of the image, individuals with neurotic tendencies hold a longer gaze toward the left side of the picture and those with mild schizophrenic tendencies look less often at the top.

Psychology lecturer Dr. Nicole Thomas of James Cook University (JCU)  in Australia notes that the relationship between personality traits and artwork preferences has already been well established. Scientists know, for example, that neurotic people are more likely to find abstract and pop art more appealing.

In the new study, however, the cognitive psychologists were particularly interested in the mechanisms of attention and perception.

“We found that people who tended towards neuroticism paid more attention to the left side of a picture, and those with traits related to schizophrenia looked less often at the top of a picture,” said Thomas.

These findings are significant because they correlate with known attentional differences in individuals with neuroticism. “For example, we tend to look to the left side of images first and the fact that these individuals spent more time looking at the left overall suggests they find it harder to disengage their attention,” said Thomas.

“In contrast, those participants with mild schizophrenic tendencies appear to have relied on an entirely different scanning strategy. The tendency to focus on the lower portion of an image has previously been linked with deficits in attentional focus and control.”

In general, the eye movements of the non-symptomatic participants were more concentrated in the upper right quadrant of their visual field.

“The right hemisphere of the brain plays a significant role in emotional processing. Artwork is inherently emotional and the emotional reactions elicited by abstract artwork might lead people to focus their attention within the upper right quadrant to better engage that emotional processing.”

Thomas said that activating the right hemisphere of the brain is also consistent with superior visuospatial processing, which would encourage more thorough exploration of abstract artwork. The work was begun by study co-author Ali Simpson at Flinders University.

Source: James Cook University


Psychological Traits May Impact How We Look at Art

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Psychological Traits May Impact How We Look at Art. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 14 Apr 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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