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Specificity Of Esthetic Experience For Artworks: An FMRI Study

C. Di Dio, N. Canessa, S. Cappa, G. Rizzolatti
Published 2011 · Psychology, Medicine

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In a previous functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, where we investigated the neural correlates of esthetic experience, we found that observing canonical sculptures, relative to sculptures whose proportions had been modified, produced the activation of a network that included the lateral occipital gyrus, precuneus, prefrontal areas, and, most interestingly, the right anterior insula. We interpreted this latter activation as the neural signature underpinning hedonic response during esthetic experience. With the aim of exploring whether this specific hedonic response is also present during the observation of non-art biological stimuli, in the present fMRI study we compared the activations associated with viewing masterpieces of classical sculpture with those produced by the observation of pictures of young athletes. The two stimulus-categories were matched on various factors, including body postures, proportion, and expressed dynamism. The stimuli were presented in two conditions: observation and esthetic judgment. The two stimulus-categories produced a rather similar global activation pattern. Direct comparisons between sculpture and real-body images revealed, however, relevant differences, among which the activation of right antero-dorsal insula during sculptures viewing only. Along with our previous data, this finding suggests that the hedonic state associated with activation of right dorsal anterior insula underpins esthetic experience for artworks.
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