Aesthetic Paper: The Importance Of Aesthetics For Our Brain

When we look at a piece of art, our brain is constantly reacting, even after we stop looking at it. A study provides new insights into how our brain reacts when we view art. It shows that when we find a piece of art aesthetically pleasing, our brain becomes active again in regions associated with thinking and emotions. This shows how important aesthetic sensibility is.

Appealing art has a lasting effect

The study, which was conducted by a team of international researchers and published in the journal NeuroImage, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at how the brain reacts when people look at art for up to 15 seconds. The focus of the research was on a system of brain regions known as the default mode network (DMN), which supports reflective mental processes and is most commonly associated with daydreaming and mind-wandering. (It supports our ability to think about ourselves and reflect on our thoughts and feelings. This inward focus is different from the outward focus of our sensory and motor systems, which help us make sense of and act on our surroundings.)

Our brain likes looking at aesthetically pleasing art
©Image by Ricardo Gomez Angel via Unsplash

Normally, when we look at a picture, the activity of the DMN usually becomes less active, and sensory brain regions become more active, like vision. However, the study found that when we find a piece of art aesthetically pleasing, parts of the DMN become active again.

This shows how important aesthetic sensibility is. Art can make a lasting impression on us depending on how appealing we find it. “During an art experience, what is ‘out there’ matters less than how our minds engage with it” explains Amy Belfi, Assistant Professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology and co-author on the paper.

Further reading

Original Publication

Belfi, A., Vessel, E.A., Brielmann, A., Isik, A.I., Chatterjee, A., Leder, H., Pelli, D. & Starr, G.(2018). Dynamics of aesthetic experience are reflected in the default-mode network. NeuroImage

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