Visceral and Behavioural Responses to Modern Art: Influence of Expertise, Type of Art and Context

Jane Dawson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Art is one of life’s great joys, whether beautiful, ugly, sublime or shocking. Whilst neuroimaging studies using visual art as stimuli have yielded a wealth of information regarding aesthetic appreciation and beauty, few have considered a wider range of emotions or the effect of expertise and context. In order to address this three studies were conducted. The first studied the time course of visual, cognitive and emotional processes in response to visual art by investigating the event-related potentials (ERPs) elicited whilst viewing and rating the visceral affect of art, in artists and non-artists. The second, behavioural, study questioned the ecological validity of using reproductions of art. Contextual differences in arousal, aesthetic response, viewing time and memory, were explored. The final study aimed to extend the findings of the first two. Continuous EEG was recorded to explore effects of expertise and context on phase synchrony bands during the contemplation of art in a gallery. Behavioural measures and structured interviews were employed to examine the impact of contemplating art on subjective feelings, mood and memory. A number of negative environmental factors adversely affected collection and validity of the continuous EEG data, which was not considered further. There were three prominent findings. First, looking at art is interesting and rewarding, particularly for experts. It is not dependent on aesthetic preference, although expertise is important regarding the appreciation of abstract art. Second, the response to art is not isolated from the context in which it is experienced, whether the physical context of a gallery vs. laboratory, or original vs. reproduction. Finally, both the prospect of looking at art and contemplation of art, whether original or reproduced, increases calmness and contentedness and decreases alertness, irrespective of expertise. Interest and curiosity are the dominant factors eliciting positive mood and positive emotions. Looking at art is relaxing and is good for you.
Original languageEnglish
  • Ellis, Jason, Supervisor
  • Orme, Libby, Supervisor
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jun 2016


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