Friday, January 7, 2011

Brain responds to 'art for art's sake'


By Quinn Eastman

What is art? Critics and historians have debated the question for years. Now Emory imaging research reveals that the ventral striatum, a region of the brain involved in experiencing pleasure, decision-making and risk-taking, is activated more when someone views a painting than when someone views a plain photograph.

The images viewed by study participants included paintings from both unknown and well-known artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Paul Klee, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh, and photographs representing similar subjects.

The results are published in NeuroImage.

The ventral striatum is part of the "reward circuit," a set of regions of the brain involved in drug addiction and gambling, says senior author Krish Sathian, professor of neurology, rehabilitation medicine and psychology at Emory University School of Medicine.

The reward circuit also includes other parts of the brain such as the orbitofrontal cortex. Sathian emphasizes that the reward circuit is not just activated by experiences such as gambling or drug-taking, but is also involved in reinforcing behaviors under conditions of uncertainty, such as financial decision-making, for example.

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Chimps mirror emotion in cartoons

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