How variable, stable, or universal are aesthetic preferences?

There is a new call for abstracts/papers for a Research Topic in the journal Frontiers in Human NeuroscienceHow variable, stable, or universal are aesthetic preferences? Editors are Daniel J Graham, Christoph Redies, and Edward A Vessel, and the deadlines are July 1st 2015 for the abstracts, and November 1st 2015 for the papers.

From the Research Topic description:

“this Research Topic poses a variety of questions: How much of aesthetics and/or art appreciation is common or stable in humans, and how much is variable, both between persons and across an individual’s lifetime? What is the effect of short-term influences (e.g. mere exposure effects vs. habituation effects, adaptation)? How do factors of individual taste, common patterns of preference, and stability interact? How universal are brain responses to aesthetic objects between individuals and for different categories of aesthetic stimuli? What is the role of non-aesthetic factors (development, personality, emotion, creativity, intelligence, etc.), as well as the role of properties inherent in aesthetic objects?

We welcome experimental and theoretical contributions from all fields that address these and related questions. Possible methodologies could include, but are not limited to, brain imaging, behavioral tests, psychophysics, and computational approaches.”

Get all the information here …

Call for papers: Research Topic for Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

There is new call for papers for a Research Topic for the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience on Neuroaesthetics.

Get all the information here.

  • Deadline for abstract submission: 31 October 2014.
  • Deadline for full article submission: 31 March 2015.

Note that the journal’s publishing fees are reduced when the paper is part of a Research Topic.

Text of the call for papers:

GT Fechner

There is general consensus that the publication of Gustav Theodor Fechner’s (1876) Vorschule der Aesthetik marks the birth of the field of psychological aesthetics. As a psychophysicist, Fechner worked under the assumption that there is a correspondence between the physical properties of stimuli and the sensations that they cause. Of course, at the time of Fechner’s writings there was no possibility to observe the neural processes that mediate the hypothesized relationship between variations in the physical properties of stimuli and their psychological consequences (e.g., sensations). Nevertheless, he distinguished between outer psychophysics which involves the relationship between variations in the physical properties of stimuli and the sensations that they cause, and inner psychophysics which involves the relationship between those sensations and the neural activities that underlie them. In this sense, he was truly ahead of his time by anticipating one of the main goals of the modern neuroscience of aesthetics, which is to establish correspondences between neural function and perceptual, cognitive and affective processes that make up aesthetic experience. Arguably, the cognitive neuroscience of aesthetics is properly viewed as a natural extension of Fechner’s empirical goal to understand the interaction between the object’s features and the subject’s active engagement with the world that lies at the core of aesthetic experience.

Having said this, the relevant empirical scope, limits, and prospects of the cognitive neuroscience of aesthetics are hotly debated. In large measure this is due to disagreements about the nature of aesthetic experience. Should the field focus on studying the contribution of general-purpose perceptual, reward, memory, and decision-making mechanisms to aesthetic experience, or should it focus on isolating only those mechanisms that contribute to strong feelings of awe? Do aesthetic emotions differ from common emotions, and if so, what are the biological concomitants of this difference? How did aesthetic behavior evolve? Given the strong historical association of the concepts of beauty and art with aesthetics, should the study of how artifacts evoke a sense of beauty hold a privileged position in the field? To what extent is the search for a “beauty module” central to the aims of the field? What are some of the social and contextual contributors to aesthetic experience that might elude neuroscientific approaches? Can the role of personal and cultural significance in aesthetic experience be understood at a biological level? We welcome contributions that will serve to sharpen our understanding of neuroaesthetics with respect to the aforementioned questions. We look forward to receiving empirical manuscripts that contain behavioural, neuropsychological, brain stimulation, evolutionary and brain imaging data. We also encourage the submission of critical reviews of the field, manuscripts focusing on methodology, and opinion papers that raise foundational concerns to stimulate renewed thinking about the aims of the field. Given the central role played by aesthetic considerations in a host of important life decisions, it is our hope that this collection of papers will further energize the field by motivating new ways of searching for its bases.

Conceptual neuroaesthetics?

There is no doubt in my mind that the future of neuroaesthetics lies in interdisciplinary dialogue. If we want to make headway in our understanding of the biological bases of our capacity to appreciate and produce aesthetic and artistic objects, then neuroscientists and psychologists will need to work in close collaboration with anthropologists, art historians, archaeologists and evolutionary scientists.

A good way of starting a dialogue is by asking a question, and in a recent paper published in Leonardo art historian Gregory Minissale asked whether neuroaesthetics could address conceptual art. I enjoyed the paper for two main reasons. First, it embodies the kind of effort to rid ourselves of traditional academic boundaries I think is essential for neuroaesthetics. Second, not only is Minissale’s answer affirmative, but he suggests how conceptual art can become a fruitful domain for research in neuroaesthetics.

Neuroaesthetics, as he rightly points out, has primarily focused on the neural underpinnings of the appreciation of perceptible aspects of art, design, architecture and so on. Conceptual art – Minissale argues – offers neuroaesthetics the opportunity to delve deeper into the artistic experience. This is because, in addition to rejecting traditional aesthetic and artistic notions, conceptual art seeks to engage and challenge the spectators’ thinking processes, encouraging them to go beyond what is immediately tangible.

Using Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise/Box in a Suitcase, 1935-1941, among other examples, Minissale outlines four possible aspects of conceptual art that could be targeted by neuroaesthetics research:

1. Conceptual art is puzzling, and its appreciation relies on reasoning, categorisation, memory, and maybe even problem solving.

2. Conceptual art relies on the interplay between the visible and invisible, and thus allows the spectator to shift among different kinds of representation and levels of explanation, inviting imagination and self-reflection.

3. Because conceptual art often makes reference to other artworks, its appreciation is often related with the creation of conceptual relations among different artworks based on information stored in memory.

4. Single artworks are often conceptually complex, in that they involve establishing relations among subordinate and supra ordinate levels.

But how can we actually use conceptual art to tap into the neural mechanisms underlying thinking and reasoning about art? To what extent are such processes crucial to appreciating “non-conceptual” art? We need to determine how “Putting neuroaesthetics into this wider cognitive context, which conceptual art clearly demands, may help us to understand our varied and nuanced experiences of art” (Minissale, 2012, p. 43). Hopefully these and similar questions will eventually be addressed by multidisciplinary research teams.

Minissale, G. (2012). Conceptual art: A blind spot for neuroaesthetics? Leonardo, 45, 43–48.