This research area takes a neurobiological view of "the aesthetic granularity problem.” What are the "atoms of aesthetic experience," as viewed from human neuroscience? Experiencing a single musical note or one word is arguably too small a unit of analysis; experiencing an entire symphony or whole novel is arguably too big. What constitutes an "aesthetic primitive," from a brain’s-eye-view? A second focus concerns the variability of experience - despite compelling neurobiological universals or shared properties. Here we seek to identify the principles (universal? innate?) and parameters (culture-specific and contingent? acquired?) of aesthetic experience.
Listeners can easily say if a singer sounds in tune or out of tune (Larrouy-Maestri et al., 2013, 2015) and if a band plays on the beat or not. In fact, we are used to “categorize” what we hear and identify performances sounding wrong.
Individuals can be aesthetically engaged by objects from widely different visual aesthetic domains, such as paintings, mountain vistas, or buildings. The goal of this project is to understand whether aesthetic appreciation of different visual domains relies on the same underlying processes.
Although we intuitively know if someone is speaking or singing, the neuronal mechanisms that drive this experience are not well understood. Whether we perceive auditory sequences as speech or song is associated with certain acoustic features (Merrill, & Larrouy-Maestri, 2017).
Moments of creative inspiration are critical pivot points that mark the transition from creative ideation to actualization of an idea.
When we go to the cinema, we partake in a complex experience. How does a series of two-dimensional images and sounds blend into an immersive, sometimes lifelike narrative experience? And how do different individuals in the movie theater become one audience?
How does the brain support aesthetic experiences with visual stimuli such as artwork, landscapes, architecture or dance? Recent work in our group suggests that finding a painting to be aesthetically moving involves a change away from the typical behavior of large-scale brain networks.
As suggested by the many singing contests and music programs in the media, the singing voice attracts ample attention. Recent studies showed that lay and expert listeners share similar definitions of what is “correct” when listening to untrained (Larrouy-Maestri et al., 2015) and trained singers (Larrouy-Maestri et al., 2017).
Adult liking judgments for visual scenes are strongly influenced by the semantic content of images, more so than by lower-level visual features (e.g. the presence of specific colors or line types).
How does the brain support aesthetically “moving” experiences with visual art in situ?
Music can be described from different points of view including the musicologist's historically informed perspective, the music theorist's notation-based relationships between sounds, and also the layman listener's verbalization of an ad hoc intuition. The result of each of these different abstractions can be considered a model of the music. Although these models will differ in complexity and accuracy, each likely captures to a certainty degree important aspects of a musical piece. A much less popular source to arrive at such a model is the performer's perspective.