Monday, January 10, 2011

Traci Pedersen - Brain Feels Rewarded While Looking at Art

This is a cool research review from Psych Central - art is good for the brain. Maybe this is why I can sit in front of a beautiful painting for hours (it seems) and not be bored.

Brain Feels Rewarded While Looking at Art

By Traci Pedersen Associate News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on January 9, 2011

Brain Feels Rewarded While Looking at Art

Viewing the works of Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh and other artists more strongly activates the brain’s “reward system” than simply looking at photographs of similar subjects, according to a new study by researchers at Emory University School of Medicine.

The Emory study included four male volunteers and four females whose average age was 23. The participants were asked to view paintings from both unknown and famous artists (Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso and others), as well as photographs that depicted similar subjects. Imaging technology revealed that when an individual viewed a painting, rather than a simple photograph, the ventral striatum (part of the reward system) was more strongly activated.

The ventral striatum is a set of regions in the brain involved in drug addiction and gambling, says senior author Krish Sathian, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurology, rehabilitation medicine and psychology. The orbitofrontal cortex is another brain area involved in the reward circuit.

Sathian noted that this area of the brain is not only activated by strong reward-seeking behaviors like gambling or drug-taking, but also plays a part in making decisions under uncertain conditions, such as financial decision-making.

Previous art appreciation studies that utilized brain scans typically sought to examine how the brain responds when art is considered attractive or ugly. Usually a study participant would be asked to look at an image and then give it a rating based on how well he or she liked it. These studies have shown that the amygdala, involved in emotional reactions, as well as different regions in the orbitofrontal cortex are involved in aesthetic preference.

“We took an independent approach,” Sathian said. “This paper hasn’t solved the problem of what art is. Rather, we can show that art does not activate just one process in the brain. There are a whole host of circuits involved.”

Read the whole article.

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