Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Ode To The Brain

03/12/2011 1 comment

The Symphony of Science is a musical project of John D Boswell, designed to deliver scientific knowledge and philosophy in musical form. The project owes its existence in large measure to the classic PBS Series Cosmos, by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Steve Soter, as well as all the other featured figures and visuals. Continuation of the videos relies on generous support from fans and followers.

Read more about the project here.

Here’s one of my favourites, “Ode To The Brain”.


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

Romantic Songs Make Women More Open To Dates…

19/06/2010 9 comments

Many studies have showed that that media with violent or aggressive content (such as violent videogames) may increase aggressive behaviour and thoughts (Bushman & Huesmann, 2006). Moreover, music and lyrics can influence people’s behaviour; prosocial songs were found to be associated with a significant increase in tipping behaviour (Jacob, Guéguen & Boulbry, 2010), male customers exposed to romantic songs spent more money than when no music was played or when non-romantic pop music was played (Jacob, Guéguen, Boulbry & Selmi, 2009).
Guéguen, Jacob and Lamy (2010) investigated if exposure to romantic songs could have an effect on behaviour. In particular, they tested if background romantic music would influence the dating behaviour of young single female participants. The stimuli used were a romantic song ‘Je l’aime à mourir’ by the french songwriter Francis Cabrel (was selected after a pilot study) and the neutral song was ‘L’heure du
thé’ by Vincent Delerm.

183 single female participants were exposed to romantic lyrics or to neutral ones while waiting for the experiment to start. Five minutes later, the participant interacted with a young male confederate in a marketing survey. During a break, the male confederate asked the participant for her phone number

In the romantic song lyrics condition 52.2% (23/44) complied with the confederate’s request , compared to 27.9% (12/43) in the neutral song lyrics condition. The difference was found significant (χ2(1, N = 83) = 5.37, p = .02, r = .24).

According to the authors these results support the General Learning Model (GLM), which was initially proposed by Buckley and Anderson (2006) to explain the influence of aggressive media (i.e. videogames) on behaviour, but was updated recently by Greitemeyer (2009) to include media exposure in general. The GLM proposes that exposure to media affects the internal states of individuals (aggressive media increase aggressive behaviour/thoughts, prosocial media promote prosocial behaviour/thoughts).
Guéguen, Jacob and Lamy (2010) suggest that the results of this particular experiment could be explain by music’s ability to induce positive affect (Lenton & Martin, 1991)

and that positive affect is related with receptivity in a courtship request (Guéguen, 2008). Thus, it is possible that the romantic song lyrics activated positive affect
which, in turn, made the participant more receptive to a request for a date. It’s also
possible that the romantic song lyrics acted as a prime that, in turn, led to the display
of behaviour associated with this prime (Bargh, Chen & Burrows, 1996).


Bargh, J. A., Chen, M., & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effect of trait construct and stereotype activation on action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71(2), 230–244.

Buckley, K. E., & Anderson, C. A. (2006). A theoretical model of the effects and consequences of playing video games. In P. Vorderer and J. Bryant (Eds.), Playing video games: Motives, responses, and consequences (pp. 363–378). Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Bushman, Brad J., & Huesmann, L. R. (2006). Short-term and Long-term Effects of Violent Media on Aggression in Children and Adults. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 160, 348-352.

Greitemeyer, T. (2009). Effects of songs with prosocial lyrics on prosocial thoughts, affect, and behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 186–190.

Jacob, C., Guéguen, N., and Boulbry, G. (2010). Effects of songs with prosocial lyrics on tipping behavior in a restaurant. International Journal of Hospitality Management.

Jacob, C., Guéguen, N., Boulbry, G., & Selmi, S. (2009). ‘Love is in the air’: Congruency between background music and goods in a flower shop. International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, 19, 75–79.

Lenton, S. R. & Martin, P. R. (1991). The contribution of music vs. instructions in the musical mood induction procedure. Behavioral Research Therapy, 29, 623–625.

ResearchBlogging.orgGueguen, N., Jacob, C., & Lamy, L. (2010). ‘Love is in the air’: Effects of songs with romantic lyrics on compliance with a courtship request Psychology of Music, 38 (3), 303-307 :

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:

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

Music and the Mind

One of my favourite music & mind speeches. Dr. Aniruddh D. Patel of the Neurosciences Institute, discusses what music can teach us about the brain, and what brain science, in turn, can reveal about music.

You can find many of his interesting papers here.

Mental Illness and Creativity

23/07/2009 10 comments

ArtisticRavenThe idea that creativity is strongly associated with mental illness was popular since Aristotle’s era. Many recent studies seem to support this claim.

Here are a few findings that suggest that the link between art and mental illness really exists:

  1. 1. Researchers (Jamison, 1989; Janka, 2004) have found high levels of psychopathology, especially, depression and bipolar disorder (I, II & cyclothymia) in writers, poets, visual artists and composers, compared to the rates in the general population. Furthermore, artistic creatives and psychiatric patients share a tendency to unusual ideas and experiences. Moreover, different domains of creativity require different cognitive profiles, with poetry and art associated with divergent thinking, schizophrenia and affective disorder (Nettle, 2005).
  2. Family studies have produced evidence of creative interests and aptitudes in close relatives of psychiatric patients, including biological relatives separated by adoption (Andreasen, 1987). This supports the idea that there is an inherited personality or cognitive trait that has both creativity and mental illness in its range of effects.
  3. Research on psychiatric patients, usually with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, suggest that they have enhanced performance relative to control participants on tasks  that require divergent thinking  (Hasenfus & Magaro, 1976; Jamison, 1989). Divergent thinking is strongly connected to creativity.
  4. A new theory based on genetics suggest that gene mutations that increase a person’s risk of developing mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar syndrome have been preserved, even preferred, during human evolution, due to their relationship with creativity. More specifically, a specific gene, neuregulin 1 is linked to a slightly increased risk of schizophrenia. Mutations to this gene were found to be linked with psychosis, poor memory and sensitive to criticism. About 50 per cent of healthy Europeans have one copy of this mutation, while 15 per cent possess two copies. People with two copies of the neuregulin 1 mutation tended to score notably higher on these measures of creativity, compared with other volunteers with one or no copy of the mutation. A significant increase in creativity relative to participants with no copy of this gene was found to people possessing only one copy of the mutation. However, the mutation of neuregulin 1 can explain only a small part of the differences in creativity levels (Kéri, 2009). Other researchers  (Nettle & Clegg, 2005) “blame” the artists for the persistence of schizophrenia, as they have schizotypal personality traits and are more successful in finding sexual partners compared to non artistic individuals. However, this idea isn’t that popular among artists.
  5. Symptoms of certain disorders like hypomania (mild mania) favour creativity by giving a boost to the imagination and energy. On the other hand, full blown symptoms or more serious disorders have the opposite effect and inhibit creativity.

Suggested readings:
Artistic tendencies linked to ‘schizophrenia gene – New Scientist article

A beautiful mind – BBC News

Manic-Depressive Illness and Creativity by K.R. Jamison – Scientific American

Creativity andmental health by J. Schlesinger – The British Journal of Psychiatry

Connecting Depression and Artistry by R.A. Friedman (MD) – The New York Times

Biological Basis For Creativity Linked To Mental Illness – Science Daily

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