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Neuroreport. 2012 Mar 28;23(5):310-3. doi: 10.1097/WNR.0b013e328351759f.

A neural mechanism for aesthetic experience.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts 02467, USA.


Aesthetic experience associated with viewing art has been hypothesized to depend on both low-level sensory processing and high-level conceptual processing. To test these hypotheses, we used functional MRI to evaluate the magnitude of activity in sensory motion processing region MT+ and in the prefrontal cortex while participants viewed van Gogh paintings that evoked a range of motion experience. In support of the sensory hypothesis of aesthetic experience and the conceptual hypothesis of aesthetic experience, MT+ activity was correlated to the degree of motion experience (but not the experience of pleasantness) and activity in the right anterior prefrontal cortex was associated with the experience of pleasantness (but not motion experience). These findings provide a neural mechanism for aesthetic experience that depends on sensory processing and conceptual processing. The techniques employed in the current study will serve as a framework for future studies to investigate the neural basis of aesthetic experience associated with other visual and nonvisual art forms such as sculpture, architecture, or music.

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