“Beauty Is In The Brain Of The Beholder”

A team of researchers tested a group’s appreciation of artwork before and after delivering a jolt to each subject’s left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, “a region of the brain previously shown to play a role in aesthetic judgment”:

The results: The brain stimulation “resulted in a modest (around three percent) but statistically significant increase of aesthetic appreciation of representational images (both artworks and photographs),” the researchers write. “Stimulation did not affect evaluation of abstract images, suggesting that the neural mechanisms underlying appreciation of figurative and abstract images may be different, at least in individuals with no strong background in fine arts.” …

This does not mean a jolt of electricity can take the place of a master’s degree in art history. Rather, the researchers suggest, the increased activity in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex seems to help people adopt “an aesthetic orientation” toward the object in question. In other words, when this section of the brain is stimulated, either internally (thanks to education and training) or artificially (via electrodes on the scalp), your focus shifts from content (that’s a picture of a tree on a hillside) to context (notice the subtle interplay of shapes and shadings). As Cattaneo and her colleagues put it, viewers disengage “from a habitual mode of identifying objects to adopt an aesthetic perspective.”