Poster A114, Saturday, March 25, 5:00 – 7:00 pm, Pacific Concourse
Aesthetic appreciation of cultural artifacts engages additional processes beyond a core domain-general system
Edward Vessel1, Ilkay Isik1, Amy Belfi2, Jonathan Stahl3, G. Gabrielle Starr2; 1Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 2New York University, New York, NY, 3Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Aesthetic appreciation represents a fundamental mode of human interaction with the visual world, yet the processes that support such experiences are poorly understood. Imaging studies with artwork suggest that there is both an “early” process that links ventral visual pathway representations with liking and a later, prefrontal process that is only engaged by aesthetically moving stimuli and may recruit portions of the default-mode network (DMN). Given that individuals can be aesthetically engaged by a diverse array of visual objects (paintings, mountain vistas, etc.), we sought to test whether aesthetic appreciation of widely different visual domains relies on the same underlying processes. Behaviorally, we find that the degree of shared versus individual aesthetic preference differs systematically across domains. Preferences for faces and landscapes contained a high proportion of shared taste, while preferences for architecture and artworks, both artifacts of human culture, reflected strong individual differences. Using fMRI, we measured brain activity as 16 observers made aesthetic judgments about architecture, natural landscapes or artwork. Using multivariate pattern classification, we found a signature of “domain-general” information about aesthetic appreciation in a portion of the DMN in the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC). A “searchlight” analysis revealed additional prefrontal regions whose activity only reflected information about the aesthetic appeal of either artwork or architecture. These results suggest that visual aesthetic engagement recruits a core set of domain-general processes, but that aesthetic evaluations of cultural artifacts rely more heavily on individual aesthetic sensibilities than do evaluations of landscape, and also engage additional processes in prefrontal cortex.
Topic Area: PERCEPTION & ACTION: Vision