Brain-hacking art: Making an emotional impression

September 23, 2010 | Source: New Scientist Life

Monet's Water Lilies

The popularity of impressionist art could be caused by the ambiguous images forcing the brain to create a more personal interpretation of the work, says Harvard neuroscientist Patrick Cavanagh.

The blurry shapes and splashes of color mean that people have to draw on their own memories to fill in the missing visual details, he says.

These paintings may also be attractive because their blurred forms speak directly to the amygdala, a brain region involved in the processing of emotions, suggests Cavanagh. The amygdala acts like an early warning system, on the lookout for unfocused threats lurking in our peripheral vision, and it tends to react more strongly to things we haven’t yet picked up consciously.