Exploring Network Interactions During Aesthetic Experiences

How does the brain support aesthetic experiences with visual stimuli such as artwork, landscapes, architecture, dance or movies?

Finding a painting to be aesthetically moving involves a change away from the typical behavior of large-scale brain networks. In particular, the default-mode network (DMN), a brain network that is thought to support aspects of internally-directed thought, is typically suppressed when externally-oriented visual networks are active. However, during moving aesthetic experiences, the DMN appears to be paradoxically active, even though the focus is external to the observer – on the artwork (Vessel, Starr, Rubin, 2012; 2013). The goal of this project is to better understand these network interactions and their dynamics. Recently published findings support the view that the DMN “locks-on” to external stimulation when viewing aesthetically moving images, but operates independently for disliked images (Belfi et al., 2019). Ongoing studies seek to better characterize these brain dynamics by setting both our measurement of aesthetic states and the external stimulation in motion.



Isik, A. I., & Vessel, E. A. (2019). Continuous ratings of movie watching reveal idiosyncratic dynamics of aesthetic enjoyment. PLOS ONE, 14(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0223896

Belfi, A. M., Vessel, E. A., Brielmann, A., Isik, A. I., Chatterjee, A., Leder, H., Pelli, D. G., Starr, G. G. (2019). Dynamics of aesthetic experience are reflected in the default-mode network. NeuroImage, 188, 584–597. http://doi.org/10.1016/J.NEUROIMAGE.2018.12.017

Vessel, E. A., Starr, G.G., Rubin, N. (2013) Art reaches within: aesthetic experience, the self and the default-mode network. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 7:258, doi: 10.3389/fnins.2013.00258. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2013.00258

Vessel, E. A., Starr, G.G., Rubin, N. (2012) The brain on art: Intense aesthetic experience activates the default mode network. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6:66, doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00066. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2012.00066