Category Archives: Visual art

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.

 

Abstract

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

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

Description:

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.

Contents:

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