Posts Tagged ‘art’

Music and the Brain: Depression and Creativity Symposium

22/01/2012 8 comments

If you’re following this blog, you probably know that I’m very interested in creativity. I was delighted to find this video on YouTube and decided to share it with you:

Kay Redfield Jamison, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, convened a discussion of the effects of depression on creativity. Joining Jamison were two distinguished colleagues from the fields of neurology and neuropsychiatry, Dr. Terence Ketter and Dr. Peter Whybrow. The Music and the Brain series is co-sponsored by the Library’s Music Division and Science, Technology and Business Division, in cooperation with the Dana Foundation.

The “Depression and Creativity” symposium marks the bicentennial of the birth of German composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), who died after a severe depression following the death of his sister, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, also a gifted composer.

One of the nation’s most influential writers on creativity and the mind, Kay Redfield Jamison is a noted authority on bipolar disorder. She is the co-author of the standard medical text on manic-depressive illness and author of “Touched with Fire,” “An Unquiet Mind,” “Night Falls Fast” and “Exuberance: The Vital Emotion.”

Dr. Terence Ketter is known for extensive clinical work with exceptionally creative individuals and a strong interest in the relationship of creativity and madness. He is professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and chief of the Bipolar Disorders Clinic at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Dr. Peter Whybrow, an authority on depression and manic-depressive disease, is director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He is also the Judson Braun Distinguished Professor and executive chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. (description take from here).

And here’s the video:

Do Strong Right-Handers Prefer Popular Music?

07/08/2011 1 comment

Why do some people like popular music while others prefer less popular genres? A new study published on the journal Psychology of Music proposes a possible explanation for this, handedness. After examining the musical preferences and the handedness scores of 92 undergraduate students, S.D. Christman identified that the strength of handedness is an important factor in individual differences in musical preferences.

More specifically, strong right-handers compared to mixed-handers reported significantly decreased liking of unpopular music genres and marginally increased liking of popular genres. These differences do not appear to reflect differences in musical training or experience.  According to the author of the study handedness is associated with differences in cognitive flexibility. Previous studies suggest that strong right-handedness is associated with decreased interaction between the left and right cerebral hemispheres, which in turn is associated with decreased cognitive flexibility across various domains. The author concludes:

A number of studies report differences between conservatives and liberals in musical preferences (e.g., Glasgow & Cartier, 1985; North & Hargreaves, 2007). For example, Glashow and Cartier (1985) reported that conservatives prefer music that is safe and familiar, presumably reflecting preference for popular, not unpopular, genres. Given evidence that strong right-handedness is associated with increased conservative attitudes (Christman, 2008), this suggests a possible three-way connection between strong right-handedness, conservative views, and a lack of open-earedness. Accordingly, future research on individual differences in musical preferences would be well advised to include strength of handedness as a variable.

Finally, in case you’re curious, here are some of the genres included in each category: (a) popular: modern rock, classic rock, heavy metal, alternative rock, modern pop, 80s pop, R&B, Rap, Hip-hop, country, (b) unpopular: soul, funk, jazz, blues, folk, avant-garde, world, electronica, reggae, ambient, house. The categorisation of popular and unpopular genres was based on record sales (conventional music was defined as popular genres with high numbers of sales, while unconventional music was defined as less popular genres with lower numbers of sales). Even though the proposed idea is interesting, handedness is probably only one of the factors that might explain individual differences in musical preference. For a different approach see a recently published study by Chamorro-Premuzic et al. (2011) who found that individual differences in music consumption are predicted by uses of music and age rather than emotional intelligence, neuroticism, extraversion or openness.



ResearchBlogging.orgChristman, S. D. (2011). Handedness and ‘open-earedness’: Strong right-handers are less likely to prefer less popular musical genres Psychology of Music : 10.1177/0305735611415751

Chamorro-Premuzic, T., Swami, V., & Cermakova, B. (2011). Individual differences in music consumption are predicted by uses of music and age rather than emotional intelligence, neuroticism, extraversion or openness Psychology of Music : 10.1177/0305735610381591

Art in the Eye of the Beholder: Preliminary Evidence?

08/03/2011 3 comments

Yellow, Red, Blue by Wassily Kandinsky

Does monocular viewing affect judgement of art? According to a 2008 paper by Finney and Heilman it does. The two researchers from the University of Florida inspired by previous studies investigating the effect of monocular viewing on performance on visual-spatial and verbal memory tasks, attempted to see what the results would be in the case of Art.


In particular, they recruited 8 right-eye dominant subjects (6 men and 2 women) with college education and asked them to view monocularly on a colour computer screen 10 painting with the right eye and another 10 with the left. None of the subjects was familiar with the presented paintings. Overall, each subject viewed 5 abstract expressionist and 5 impressionist paintings with each eye. Then they rated on a 1 to 10 scale four qualities of the paintings: representation (=how well the subject of the painting was rendered), aesthetics (how beautiful the painting appeared), novelty (=newness and originality of the painting), and closure (=completeness of the composition). Each quality was defined for each subject.

Monocular viewing had significant effects only in paintings in the abstract expressionist style. Impressionist paintings yielded no differences. The authors attributed this to the more concrete nature of impressionist works. Abstract expressionist paintings were rated more novel when viewed with the left eye. Moreover, the researchers found a trend for rating paintings as having more closure when they were viewed with the right eye than with the left.

The left eye primarily projects to the right superior colliculus and activation of this colliculus activates the right hemisphere’s attentional systems. The authors suggest that the results of the study provide evidence for the role of the right hemisphere in creativity and novelty processing. This seems consistent with previous research on patients with brain lesions and neuroimaging studies that have associated global processing and creativity with the right hemisphere*.

The small number of participants, however, means that the effects observed in this study must be seen with caution. Hopefully, someone will try to replicate these results involving a bigger sample in the near future.

*but also see Lindell (2010)

ResearchBlogging.orgFinney, G., & Heilman, K. (2008). Art in the Eye of the Beholder: The Perception of Art During Monocular Viewing Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, 21 (1), 5-7 DOI: 10.1097/WNN.0b013e3181684fe0

Dopamine, Mental Illness and Creativity

19/05/2010 6 comments

A new study by researchers at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet supports the hypothesis that there is a link between mental illness and creativity. More specifically, they showed that highly creative people – with high scores in divergent thinking – had a lower density of D2 receptors in their thalamus than less creative people. Lower density of D2 receptors is a consistent finding in patients with schizophrenia. The authors suggest that lower density of D2 receptors may be “one factor that facilitates performance on divergent thinking tasks.”, as it could possibly:

“lower thalamic gating thresholds, resulting in decreased filtering and autoregulation of information flow and, increase excitation of cortical regions through decreased inhibition of prefrontal pyramidal neurons. The decreased prefrontal signal-to-noise ratio may place networks of cortical neurons in a more labile state, allowing them to more easily switch between representations and process multiple stimuli across a wider association range. This state, which we hereforth will refer to as the “creative bias”, could benefit performance on tasks that involve continuous generation and (re-)combination of mental representations and switching between mind-sets

However, decreased signal-to-noise ratio is also associated with some drawbacks (i.e. cognitive disorganization, poor performance on tasks of selective attention), some of which are linked to psychopathology. As de Manzano and colleagues conclude:

“..thinking outside the box might be facilitated by having a somewhat less intact box.”

ResearchBlogging.orgde Manzano, Örjan, Cervenka, Simon, Karabanov, Anke, Farde, Lars, & Ullén, Fredrik (2010). Thinking Outside a Less Intact Box: Thalamic Dopamine D2 Receptor Densities Are Negatively Related to Psychometric Creativity in Healthy Individuals PLoS ONE DOI:

“The New AI” – Jürgen Schmidhuber (talk)

22/02/2010 1 comment

Jürgen Schmidhuber is a professor of Cognitive Robotics at the Tech. University Munich. He’s mostly known on his work on machine learning. Interestingly, his research is not also relevant for robotics and AI, but also for arts. You can learn more about his work on his website and download some of his publications here.

Here’s his talk from the second Conference on Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).

For next the remaining 3 parts of the talk click here.

Most traditional artificial intelligence (AI) systems of the past 50 years are either very limited, or based on heuristics, or both. The new millennium, however, has brought substantial progress in the field of theoretically optimal and practically feasible algorithms for prediction, search, inductive inference based on Occam’s razor, problem solving, decision making, and reinforcement learning in environments of a very general type. Since inductive inference is at the heart of all inductive sciences, some of the results are relevant not only for AI and computer science but also for physics, provoking nontraditional predictions based on Zuse’s thesis of the computer-generated universe. (taken from here )

Music Listening, Emotion and Reward Systems

31/10/2009 5 comments

brain_musicMusic is an important part of most people’s lives. Recently, many studies are focused on music and especially its relationship with emotion and the reward system. Here are a few interesting ones:

1.Salimpoor et al (2009), found that the rewarding aspects of music listening are related to the degree of emotional arousal. Here’s the abstract from their interesting study:

Background: Listening to music is amongst the most rewarding experiences for humans. Music has no functional
resemblance to other rewarding stimuli, and has no demonstrated biological value, yet individuals continue listening to
music for pleasure. It has been suggested that the pleasurable aspects of music listening are related to a change in
emotional arousal, although this link has not been directly investigated. In this study, using methods of high temporal
sensitivity we investigated whether there is a systematic relationship between dynamic increases in pleasure states and
physiological indicators of emotional arousal, including changes in heart rate, respiration, electrodermal activity, body
temperature, and blood volume pulse.

Methodology: Twenty-six participants listened to self-selected intensely pleasurable music and ‘‘neutral’’ music that was
individually selected for them based on low pleasure ratings they provided on other participants’ music. The ‘‘chills’’
phenomenon was used to index intensely pleasurable responses to music. During music listening, continuous real-time
recordings of subjective pleasure states and simultaneous recordings of sympathetic nervous system activity, an objective
measure of emotional arousal, were obtained.

Principal Findings: Results revealed a strong positive correlation between ratings of pleasure and emotional arousal.
Importantly, a dissociation was revealed as individuals who did not experience pleasure also showed no significant increases
in emotional arousal.

Conclusions/Significance: These results have broader implications by demonstrating that strongly felt emotions could be
rewarding in themselves in the absence of a physically tangible reward or a specific functional goal.”

2. Activation in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion was also found in an earlier study by Blood & Zatorre (2001). Using PET they found cerebral blood flow increases and decreases in brain regions that are thought to be involved in reward/motivation, emotion, and arousal such as the ventral striatum, midbrain, amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, and ventral medial prefrontal cortex. These structures are known from previous studies to be active in response to other euphoria-inducing stimuli, such as food, sex, and drugs of abuse.

3. Menon & Levitin (2005) also found that:

“listening to music strongly modulates activity in a network of mesolimbic structures involved in reward processing including the nucleus accumbens (NAc) and the ventral tegmental area (VTA), as well as the hypothalamus and insula, which are thought to be involved in regulating autonomic and physiological responses to rewarding and emotional stimuli.”

4. For more information on the neural correlates of music perception, you can read the reviews by Limb (2006) and Koelsch (2006).

(picture: part of Guilherme Marconi’s collection – My Schizophrenic Brain)

Verbalising Our Appreciation of Art Influences Our Preferences

15mray2Talking about art can influence our appreciation of it. That’s what Ayumi Yamada found by asking half of 129 students to either verbalise their reasons for liking two paintings or their reasons for not liking them. One piece was representational, the other piece was abstract. The remaining participants were used as a controls and were only asked to view the paintings.

The participants who were asked to verbalize their reasons for liking the artworks were more likely to prefer the representational painting. Those who verbalised their reasons for disliking the paintings were also more likely to dislike the representational painting.

The results showed that verbalising their appreciation of art influenced the participants’ preferences. Yamada explained these findings suggesting that “due to its figurative qualities people will be encouraged to generate reasons to describe representational art, rather than abstract art, and that these reasons could potentially be biased and cause them to change their preferences in line with these reasons”.

Link to the original study

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