Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 16 November 2012 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00311

Abstract art and cortical motor activation: an EEG study

  • 1Department of Neuroscience, Section of Physiology, University of Parma, Parma, Italy
  • 2Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA

The role of the motor system in the perception of visual art remains to be better understood. Earlier studies on the visual perception of abstract art (from Gestalt theory, as in Arnheim, 1954 and 1988, to balance preference studies as in Locher and Stappers, 2002, and more recent work by Locher et al., 2007; Redies, 2007, and Taylor et al., 2011), neglected the question, while the field of neuroesthetics (Ramachandran and Hirstein, 1999; Zeki, 1999) mostly concentrated on figurative works. Much recent work has demonstrated the multimodality of vision, encompassing the activation of motor, somatosensory, and viscero-motor brain regions. The present study investigated whether the observation of high-resolution digitized static images of abstract paintings by Lucio Fontana is associated with specific cortical motor activation in the beholder's brain. Mu rhythm suppression was evoked by the observation of original art works but not by control stimuli (as in the case of graphically modified versions of these works). Most interestingly, previous visual exposure to the stimuli did not affect the mu rhythm suppression induced by their observation. The present results clearly show the involvement of the cortical motor system in the viewing of static abstract art works.

Keywords: cortical motor system, perception, abstract art, EEG, mu rhythm suppression

Citation: Umilta' MA, Berchio C, Sestito M, Freedberg D and Gallese V (2012) Abstract art and cortical motor activation: an EEG study. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 6:311. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00311

Received: 24 July 2012; Accepted: 30 October 2012;
Published online: 16 November 2012.

Edited by:

Patrik Vuilleumier, University Medical Center and University Hospital Geneva, Switzerland

Reviewed by:

Alfons Schnitzler, Heinrich-Heine-University, Germany
Matthew R. Longo, Birkbeck, University of London, UK

Copyright © 2012 Umilta', Berchio, Sestito, Freedberg and Gallese. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: M. Alessandra Umilta' and Vittorio Gallese, Dipartimento di Neuroscenze, Sezione di Fisiologia, Via Volturno 39, 43121, Parma, Italy. e-mail: mariaalessandra.umilta@unipr.it; vittorio.gallese@unipr.it

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