The Unification of the Arts: Neurocognitive Perspectives on What the Arts Share and Why

Steven Brown has organized a one-day conference will explore the underlying similarities and differences among the arts, both at the cognitive and neural levels. Such factors permit syntheses of the arts, such as dancing to music, singing words, streaming background music in a movie, or blending sounds and visual elements in multimedia forms. By understanding how artforms are able to combine, we can aspire towards a unification of the arts.

Conference date: Friday, May 11, 2018

Time: 9:30 am – 5:00 pm

Place: Council Chambers, Gilmour Hall; McMaster University; Hamilton, Ontario


  • Ellen Dissanayake (University of Washington): origins of the arts
  • Raymond Mar (York University): literature/theatre
  • Oshin Vartanian (University of Toronto): the visual arts/architecture
  • Krista Hyde (University of Montreal): music
  • Steven Brown (McMaster University): dance
  • Anjan Chatterjee (University of Pennsylvania): aesthetics
  • Aaron Kozbelt (Brooklyn College, City University of New York): creativity

Organizer: Steven Brown (McMaster University)

Poster session: People are encouraged to present research findings related to cognitive and/or neural aspects of any branch of the arts at a poster session taking place during the lunch break. Abstracts should be submitted by April 20 to Matthew Berry at

Registration cost: $80 ($50 for enrolled students). This includes lunch.

To register for the conference or for more information, please visit:





Using diagnostic and interactive desktop- and head-mounted mobile eye tracking technologies to record and analyse the situated, embodied experience of visual aesthetics/visitor experience in art galleries and museums, this project will make a real-world impact, working with leading gallery and museum industry partners to develop experimental and creative strategies for visitor engagement and evaluation. This interdisciplinary project will enable the successful candidate to work with supervisors combining expertise in the perceptual foundations of aesthetic experience and in the development of innovative curatorial practices. With backgrounds in visual aesthetics and/or the psychology of human perception, applicants should have an understanding of the theory and practice of eye movements in laboratory and/or field studies.

KEYWORDS: Eye tracking / Aesthetics / Galleries and Museums / Cultural Innovation / Embodied perception

Deadline for applicants to contact supervisors and submit Expression of Interest is 21 July.

For more information on the project, and to submit your Expression of Interest please visit the following webpage:

To discuss the project, prospective applicants please contact Michael Garbutt, PhD. , or A-Prof. Branka Spehar before 5pm on 21 July.


  •  $40K (AUD) a year stipend for four years
  • Tuition fees covered for the full 4-year period
  • Coaching and mentoring will form a critical part of your highly personalised leadership development plan
  • Up to $10k (AUD) each year to build your career and support your international research collaborations

For more details about Scientia Scholarships visit

A/Prof Branka Spehar | Director of Undergraduate Programs
School of Psychology | The University of New South Wales | SYDNEY NSW 2052 AUSTRALIA Room 715, Mathews Building | T: +61 (2) 9385 1463 | Fax: +61 (2) 9385 3641
E: | W |

Michael Garbutt PhD | Associate Dean Research Training UNSW Art & DesignUNSW Sydney | Paddington Campus Cnr Oxford St & Greens Rd. | Paddington, NSW 2021Australia T:  +61 (0)2 8936 0774 | E: |W:



Are human visual preferences older than humans themselves?

Our most recent paper shows that we (Homo sapiens) share our preference for curved contours with our closest living primate relatives: chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and gorillas (Gorilla gorilla). This suggests that such preference is not a unique evolutionary acquisition of our species. It seems, rather, that we inherited it from earlier primate ancestors – at least the common ancestor of humans, chimpanzees and gorillas, which lived in Africa some 7 or 8 million years ago.

The implication is that some of the building blocks of aesthetic appreciation – visual preference, in this case – might have a long evolutionary history in the primate lineage, predating the appearance of our own species by millions of years. Whatever the details of the origin of aesthetic appreciation, it seems it was the result of tweaking and integrating perceptual, cognitive, and emotional processes common to many extant and extinct primate species.



Among the visual preferences that guide many everyday activities and decisions, from consumer choices to social judgment, preference for curved over sharp-angled contours is commonly thought to have played an adaptive role throughout human evolution, favoring the avoidance of potentially harmful objects. However, because nonhuman primates also exhibit preferences for certain visual qualities, it is conceivable that humans’ preference for curved contours is grounded on perceptual and cognitive mechanisms shared with extant nonhuman primate species. Here we aimed to determine whether nonhuman great apes and humans share a visual preference for curved over sharp-angled contours using a 2-alternative forced choice experimental paradigm under comparable conditions. Our results revealed that the human group and the great ape group indeed share a common preference for curved over sharp-angled contours, but that they differ in the manner and magnitude with which this preference is expressed behaviorally. These results suggest that humans’ visual preference for curved objects evolved from earlier primate species’ visual preferences, and that during this process it became stronger, but also more susceptible to the influence of higher cognitive processes and preference for other visual features.

Munar, E., Gómez-Puerto, G., Call, J., & Nadal, M. (2015). Common visual preference for curved contours in humans and great apesPLoS One, 10(11): e0141106