Forthcoming: Art, Aesthetics and the Brain

Watch out for this new book, which will be released July this year: Huston, J. P.; Nadal, M.; Mora, F.; Agnati, L. F. & Cela-Conde, C. J. (Eds.) (2015). Art, Aesthetics and the Brain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

oup cover


Humans have engaged in artistic and aesthetic activities since the appearance of our species. Our ancestors have decorated their bodies, tools, and utensils for over 100,000 years. The expression of meaning using color, line, sound, rhythm, or movement, among other means, constitutes a fundamental aspect of our species’ biological and cultural heritage. Art and aesthetics, therefore, contribute to our species identity and distinguish it from its living and extinct relatives.

Science is faced with the challenge of explaining the natural foundations of such a unique trait, and the way cultural processes nurture it into magnificent expressions, historically and ethnically unique. How does the human brain bring about these sorts of behaviors? What neural processes underlie the appreciation of painting, music, and dance? How does training modulate these processes? How are they impaired by brain lesions and neurodegenerative diseases? How did such neural underpinnings evolve? Are humans the only species capable of aesthetic appreciation, or are other species endowed with the rudiments of this capacity?

This volume brings together the work on such questions by leading experts in genetics, psychology, neuroimaging, neuropsychology, art history, and philosophy. It sets the stage for a cognitive neuroscience of art and aesthetics, understood in the broadest possible terms. With sections on visual art, dance, music, neuropsychology, and evolution, the breadth of this volume’s scope reflects the richness and variety of topics and methods currently used today by scientists to understand the way our brain endows us with the faculty to produce and appreciate art and aesthetics.


Section One: Foundational Issues 

  1.  Neuroculture: A new cultural revolution?, Francisco Mora
  2. Art, meaning, and aesthetics: the case for a cognitive neuroscience of art, William P. Seeley
  3. States, people, and contexts: Three psychological challenges for the neuroscience of aesthetics, Kirill Fayn and Paul J. Silvia
  4. Aesthetic appreciation – convergence from experimental aesthetics and physiology, Helmut Leder, Gernot Gerger and David Brieber
  5. The moving eye of the beholder. Eye-tracking and the perception of paintings, Christoph Klein and Raphael Rosenberg

Section Two: Cognitive Neuroscience of Visual Aesthetics and Art 

  1. Neural mechanisms for evaluating the attractiveness of faces, Spas Getov and Joel S. Winston
  2. Indeterminate art works and the human brain, Robert Pepperell and Alumit Ishai
  3. Contextual bias and insulation against bias during esthetic rating: the implication of VMPFC and DLPFC in neural valuation, Ulrich Kirk and David Freedberg
  4. Neuroimaging studies of making aesthetic products, Oshin Vartanian

Section Three: Cognitive Neuroscience of Dance 

  1. Beautiful embodiment: The shaping of aesthetic preference by personal experience, Emily S. Cross
  2. Sensorimotor aesthetics: Neural correlates of aesthetic perception of dance, Beatriz Calvo-Merino
  3. Towards ecological validity in empirical aesthetics of dance, Julia F. Christensen and Corinne Jola

Section Four: Cognitive Neuroscience of Music 

  1. Liking music: Genres, contextual factors, and individual differences, Kathleen A. Corrigall and E. Glenn Schellenberg
  2. Tension-resolution patterns as a key element of aesthetic experience: psychological principles and underlying brain mechanisms, Moritz Lehne and Stefan Koelsch
  3. From pleasure to liking and back: Bottom-up and top-down neural routes to the aesthetic enjoyment of music, Elvira Brattico
  4. Effects of expertise on the cognitive and neural processes involved in musical appreciation, Marcus T. Pearce

Section Five: Neuropsychology of Art and Aesthetics 

  1. The neuropsychology of visual art, Anjan Chatterjee
  2. The creation of art in the setting of dementia, Indre Viskontas and Suzee Lee
  3. Hemispheric specialization, art, and aesthetics, Dahlia W. Zaidel

Section Six: The Evolution of Art, Aesthetics, and the Brain 

  1. Towards a comparative approach to empirical aesthetics, Gesche Westphal-Fitch and W. Tecumseh Fitch
  2. Art and brain coevolution, Camilo J. Cela-Conde and Francisco J. Ayala
  3. Art as a human “instinct-like” behaviour emerging from the exaptation of the communication processes, Luigi F. Agnati, Diego Guidolin, and Kjell Fuxe

Section Seven: Integrative Approaches 

  1. Neurobiological foundations of art and aesthetics, Edmund T. Rolls
  2. Aesthetic evaluation of art: a formal approach, Alexander J. Huston and Joseph P. Huston
  3. Tempos of eternity: music, volition, and playing with time, Barbara G. Goodrich

New book out: An Introduction to Neuroaesthetics

Lauring, J. O. (Ed.) (2014). An introduction to neuroaesthetics: The neuroscientific approach to aesthetic experience, artistic creativity, and arts appreciation. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press.


From the publisher: “With this volume, Jon O. Lauring offers a cutting-edge introduction to the emerging field of neuroaesthetics. Gathering works from leading scholars all across the globe, he surveys the many ways we have taken what we have learned about our brains and nervous system and applied it to new understandings of art, beauty, and creativity.

The contributors explore the biological underpinnings of aesthetic experience from a variety of angles. Opening with a look at neuroaesthetics’s historical antecedents and an outline of methods and theories, the book goes on to address a fascinating assortment of studies on biological stimuli and art, from faces and landscapes to literature and film, from places and architecture to music and dance. Simultaneously exploring data from the latest brain-imaging technology and addressing some of our most enduring philosophical quandaries, this volume offers a comprehensive look at a pivotal moment in aesthetics, which grows richer every day with new questions”.



1. A History for Neuroaesthetics (Marcos Nadal, Antoni Gomila, and Alejandro Gàlvez-Pol)

2. Experimental Aesthetics (Helmut Leder and Pablo P. L. Tinio)

3. The Theoretical and Methodological Backdrop of Neuroaesthetics (Jon O. Lauring)

4. Visual Art (Jon O. Lauring)

5. Seeing Faces in the Brain (Alumit Ishai)

6. Environmental Neuroaesthetics, Places, and Architecture (Nicolai Rostrup)

7. The Musical Brain (Jens Hjortkjær)

8. Literary Reading (David S. Miall)

9. Film, Neuroaesthetics, and Empathy (Torben Grodal and Mette Kramer)

10. Neuroaesthetics and Dance (Beatriz Calvo-Merino and Julia F. Christensen)

11. Neuropsychology of the Arts (Bartlomiej Piechowski-Jozwiak and Julien Bogousslavsky)

12. Generating Aesthetic Products in the Scanner: fMRI Studies of Drawing, Story Writing, and Jazz Improvisation (Oshin Vartanian)




When misleading lines are drawn

shimamuraMuch of Hutton and Kelly’s unfortunate review of Shimamura’s Experiencing art rests on a biased and misguided image of the current cognitive neuroscience of aesthetics. The reviewers’ first grievance is that the book fails to “play a critical role in establishing neuroaesthetics as a subject worth taking seriously”. Such an expectation—unreasonable for a clearly introductory book—only reveals the extent to which they disregard a large body of work on the neural basis of aesthetic and art appreciation whose worth has long been taken seriously, from Burke to our days.

As the cognitive neuroscience of aesthetics has gained momentum, scientists have engaged philosophers, artists and art historians in lively arguments. Contrary to Hutton and Kelly’s hyperbolic caricature of “territorial squabbles”, such encounters have mostly taken the form of enriching scholarly discussions. They make their case by overlooking recent collaborations between artists, architects, philosophers, art historians, psychologists, and neuroscientists to understand the nature of artistic and aesthetic appreciation. They even neglect to mention the book Aesthetic Science, a volume coedited by Shimamura himself, the first third of which is devoted to philosophical perspectives.

Finally, Hutton and Kelly support their views with philosopher Alva Noë’s reproach of neuroaesthetics for not having shown anything interesting or surprising about art. But why should neuroaesthetics be judged on the basis of how well it answers philosophical questions about art? Art poses a wealth of different questions. Some are philosophical and others are historical. Yet, others have to do with the biological underpinnings of the cognitive and emotional processes involved in the creation and appreciation of art. And these are the questions the cognitive neuroscience of art has set out to answer. Some philosophers may find such issues uninteresting, but does this mean that they are less worthy of scientific research?


Hutton and Kelly call for responsible advocates for the cognitive neuroscience of aesthetics, but there is an equally pressing need for responsible commentators, who keep up to date with the field’s progress, who are able to make their case without building straw men, and avoid judging the whole field based on unrepresentative hand-picked instances. Shimamura’s volume constitutes another stepping-stone for the cognitive neuroscience of aesthetics. Its service is to be improved upon, just as William James thought of his own book The Principles of Psychology: “A great chance for some future psychologue to make a greater name than Newton’s, but who then will read the books of this generation? Not many, I throw. Meanwhile they must be written”.

Marcos Nadal & Helmut Leder