This article is part of the Research Topic Brain and Art

Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 19 April 2012 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00066

The brain on art: intense aesthetic experience activates the default mode network

  • 1Center for Brain Imaging, New York University, New York, NY, USA
  • 2Department of English, New York University, New York, NY, USA
  • 3Center for Neural Science, New York University, New York, NY, USA

Aesthetic responses to visual art comprise multiple types of experiences, from sensation and perception to emotion and self-reflection. Moreover, aesthetic experience is highly individual, with observers varying significantly in their responses to the same artwork. Combining fMRI and behavioral analysis of individual differences in aesthetic response, we identify two distinct patterns of neural activity exhibited by different sub-networks. Activity increased linearly with observers' ratings (4-level scale) in sensory (occipito-temporal) regions. Activity in the striatum (STR) also varied linearly with ratings, with below-baseline activations for low-rated artworks. In contrast, a network of frontal regions showed a step-like increase only for the most moving artworks (“4” ratings) and non-differential activity for all others. This included several regions belonging to the “default mode network” (DMN) previously associated with self-referential mentation. Our results suggest that aesthetic experience involves the integration of sensory and emotional reactions in a manner linked with their personal relevance.

Keywords: aesthetics, preference, fmri, visual art, default mode network

Citation: Vessel EA, Starr GG and Rubin N (2012) The brain on art: intense aesthetic experience activates the default mode network. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 6:66. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00066

Received: 12 October 2011; Accepted: 12 March 2012;
Published online: 20 April 2012.

Edited by:

Alvaro Pascual-Leone, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School, USA

Reviewed by:

Alvaro Pascual-Leone, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School, USA
Luis M. Martinez, Universidade de A Coruña, Spain;
Mark A. Halko, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, USA

Copyright: © 2012 Vessel, Starr and Rubin. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial License, which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited.

*Correspondence: Edward A. Vessel, Center for Brain Imaging, New York University, 4 Washington Pl., Rm. 156, New York, NY 10003, USA. e-mail: ed.vessel@nyu.edu

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