Medial prefrontal cortex involvement in aesthetic appreciation of paintings: a tDCS study

Abstract

Among the brain regions involved in the aesthetic evaluation of paintings, the prefrontal cortex seems to play a pivotal role. In particular, consistent neuroimaging evidence indicates that activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (mainly in the left hemisphere) and in medial and orbital sectors of the prefrontal cortex is linked to viewing aesthetically pleasing images. In this study, we focused on the contribution of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) in mediating aesthetic decisions about paintings. We found that enhancing excitability in this region via anodal tDCS led participants to judge paintings as more beautiful. Although significant, the effects were moderate, possibly due to the neutral affective value of the artworks we used, suggesting that activity in mPFC may be critically dependent on the affective impact of the paintings.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by a PRIN Grant (2015WXAXJF) by Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research to Z.C and by Mondino Foundation “Ricerca Corrente” funds.

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Correspondence to Zaira Cattaneo.

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Appendix

Appendix

The two sets of equivalent paintings used in the experiment

Santiago Alabert. Vase of Roses and other Flowers (1799)Santiago Alabert. Vase of Roses and other Flowers (1799)
Ramon Martí Alsina. Catalan Landscape (1860)Ramon Martí Alsina. Landscape with a flock of sheep (1870–1878)
Francis Alÿs. No title (2000-1)Francis Alÿs. No title (2001)
Hermen Anglada Camarasa. The Gypsy way of Walking (1902)Hermen Anglada Camarasa. The Gypsy of the Pomegranates (1904)
Juan de Arellano. Garland of Flowers with a Landscape (1652)Juan de Arellano. Garland of Flowers with a Landscape (1652)
Eduardo Arroyo. Madrid-Paris-Madrid (1989)Eduardo Arroyo. Madrid-Paris-Madrid (1989)
Ramón Bayeu y Subías. The Ham and Sausage Seller (ca. 1786)Ramón Bayeu y Subías. The Rustic Offering (ca. 1786)
Ramón Bayeu y Subías. Boy with a Wicker Basket (ca. 1786)Ramón Bayeu y Subías. The Blind Musician (ca. 1786)
George Bellows. North River (1908)George Bellows. Easter Snow (1915)
Aureliano de Beruete y Moret. The Church of San Francisco from the Banks of the Manzanares (1907)Aureliano de Beruete y Moret. View of Madrid from the River Manzanares (1907)
Albert Bierstadt. Merced River, Yosemite Valley (1866)Albert Bierstadt. Canadian Rockies (Lake Louise) (ca. 1889)
Thomas Bromley Blacklock. Fisher Girls (ca. 1903)Thomas Bromley Blacklock. Her First Catch (1902)
Francisco Bores. Still Life with Print (1937)Francisco Bores. Untitled (ca. 1937)
Francisco Bores. Card Players (1942)Francisco Bores. Untitled (Café) (1928)
Juan Martín Cabezalero. The Assumption of the Virgin (ca. 1665)Juan Martín Cabezalero. The Assumption of the Virgin (mid 17th century)
José Camarón. Couples in a Park (ca. 1785)José Camarón. A festival (ca. 1785)
Vicente Carducho. The Relief of Constance (1634)Vicente Carducho. The Victory at Fleurs (1634)
Vicente Carducho. San Juan de Mata Renounces the Doctorate and Accepts it Later through Divine Inspiration (1634-5)Vicente Carducho. Ordainment and First Mass of San Juan de Mata (1634-5)
Vicente Carducho. The Madonna and Child Appear to Pedro Faveiro (1632)Vicente Carducho. The Annunciation (Late 16th–early 17th century)
José Manuel Cobo. Study of two Pears (1978-9)José Manuel Cobo. Smoker (1980)
William Collins. Early Morning - Cromer (1845-6)William Collins. Frost Scene (1827)
Joseph Crawhall. A Lincolnshire Pasture (1882-3)Joseph Crawhall. Picketed Horses, Tangier (1888)
Salvador Dalí. Still Life (1923)Salvador Dalí. Still Life (1923)
Thomas Doughty. Spring Landscape (ca. 1853–6)Thomas Doughty. On the Hudson (1830–5)
Asher Brown Durand. River Scene (1854)Asher Brown Durand. LandscapeScene from “Thanatopsis” (1850)
Asher Brown Durand. High Point: Shandaken Mountains (1853)Asher Brown Durand. Summer Afternoon (1865)
Juan Antonio de Frías y Escalante. Abraham and the three Angels (1667-8)Juan Antonio de Frías y Escalante. Priest Ajimelec gives David the Bread and the Sword (1667-8)
Antonio María Esquivel y Suárez de Urbina. Contemporary Poets. A Reading by Zorilla in the Painter’s Studio (1864)Antonio María Esquivel y Suárez de Urbina. Ventura de la Vega Reading a Work in the Prince’s Theater (1864)
Juan Fernández “El Labrador”. Still Life with four Bunches of Grapes (ca. 1636)Juan Fernández “El Labrador”. Four Bunches of Hanging Grapes (ca. 1636)
Rafael Ferrer. Merengue en Boca Chica (1989)Rafael Ferrer. Remembrance of an Afternoon on the Way (1983)
José Ferrer. Still Life with Grapes and Pomegranates (1781)José Ferrer. Still Life with Fruit and a Crystal Vase (1781)
Albert Gleizes. Women sowing (1913)Albert Gleizes. Landscape with Windmill (1913)
Mathias Goeritz. Under the sun (1948)Mathias Goeritz. Under the moon (1948)
Isidro González Velázquez. View of the San Antonio square opposite the Aranjuez Royal Palace (1791)Isidro González Velázquez. View of Aranjuez Royal Palace from the East (1791)
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes. Decoy Hunting (1775)Francisco de Goya y Lucientes. Dogs on a Leash (1775)
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes. The Picnic (1776)Francisco de Goya y Lucientes. Dance on the Banks of the Manzanares (1776-7)
Juan Gris. The guitar on the Table (1913)Juan Gris. Violin and Guitar (1913)
Juan Gris. The Violin (1916)Juan Gris. Jar and Glass (1916)
Juan Gris. Coffee Grinder (1920)Juan Gris. Carafe and Book (1920)
Juan Gris. Guitar and Newspaper (1925)Juan Gris. The Musician’s Paper (1926)
Carlos de Haes. Remains of a Shipwreck (San Juan de Luz) (ca. 1882)Carlos de Haes. A Wrecked Boat (1883)
Carlos de Haes. Rocks (Pajares Pass) (1874)Carlos de Haes. Picos de Europa (ca. 1874)
Carlos de Haes. Breaking waves (Lequeitio) (ca. 1872)Carlos de Haes. Shoals (Lequeitio) (ca. 1872)
Childe Hassam. The Brush House (1916)Childe Hassam. Street in Portsmouth (1916)
Edward Hopper. The Lighthouse at Two Lights (1929)Edward Hopper. Coast Guard Station, Two Lights (1927)
John Frederick Kensett. A Foggy Sky (1872)John Frederick Kensett. Newport Rocks (1872)
William Henry Knight. Knuckle Down (1857)William Henry Knight. The Young Artist (1861)
Mariano Salvador Maella. Pescadores (1785)Mariano Salvador Maella. The Embarkation (1784)
Mariano Salvador Maella. Spring (1805-6)Mariano Salvador Maella. Autumn (1805-6)
Fray Juan Bautista Maíno. Saint John the Evangelist in Patmos (1612–4)Fray Juan Bautista Maíno. Saint John the Baptist in a Landscape (1612–4)
Fray Juan Bautista Maíno. Pentecost (1615–20)Fray Juan Bautista Maíno. The Pentecost (1612–4)
Maruja Mallo. Figures (1937)Maruja Mallo. Acrobats Macro and Microcosms (1937)
John Marin. Motive, Telephone Building, New York (recto); Downtown Manhattan (verso) (1936)John Marin. Lower Manhattan from the River, No. 1 (1921)
Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo. The Arch of Titus in Rome (1657)Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo. Landscape with Mercury and Herse (1660)
Joan Massanet. Birth of Venus (1927)Joan Massanet. Surrealist Composition (1927)
Luis Egidio Meléndez. Still Life with Apples, Nuts, Boxes of Sweets and Vessels (1759)Luis Egidio Meléndez. Still Life with Limes, Box of Jelly, Butterfly and Vessels (Third quarter of the 18th century)
Luis Egidio Meléndez. Still Life with Oysters, Garlic, Eggs, Pot and Pan (1759)Luis Egidio Meléndez. Still Life with Sausages, Ham and Vessels (1759)
William Henry Midwood. At the Crofter’s Wheel (1876)William Henry Midwood. The Music Lesson (1872)
Jerome Myers. The Mission Tent (1906)Jerome Myers. A North River recreation Pier (1905)
Pedro de Orrente (Workshop). Jacob in the Well (First half of the 17th century)Pedro de Orrente (Workshop). Jacob and Rachel at the Well (First half of the 17th century)
Godofredo Ortega Muñoz. Castile. Summer (1957)Godofredo Ortega Muñoz. The Hill of White Stones (1963)
Godofredo Ortega Muñoz. White Grapevines (1974)Godofredo Ortega Muñoz. Fields in Lanzarote (1969)
Godofredo Ortega Muñoz. Bread and Cheese Still Life (1940)Godofredo Ortega Muñoz. Pine Still Life (1950)
Benjamín Palencia. Still Life (1927)Benjamín Palencia. Still Life (White Glass, Jar and White Fruits on a Blue Background) (1927)
Benjamín Palencia. Frozen Smoke (1930)Benjamín Palencia. Composition (1930)
Benjamín Palencia. My Mill (1949)Benjamín Palencia. The Millrace. Landscape of the Molina (1950)
Benjamín Palencia. Still Life with Siphon (1920)Benjamín Palencia. Still Life with Siphon (1924)
Antonio de Pereda. Still Life with Fruit and Game (1651)Antonio de Pereda. Kitchen Still Life (1651)
Darío de Regoyos. Irún in the Evening (1901)Darío de Regoyos. The Hen House (1912)
William Trost Richards. Lake Squam and the Sandwich Mountains (1872)William Trost Richards. Sunset on Mount Chocorua, New Hampshire (1872)
William Trost Richards. Near Land’s End, Cornwall (1879)William Trost Richards. New Jersey Beach (1901)
Luis Rigalt y Farriols. Landscape (1858)Luis Rigalt y Farriols. Montserrat Landscape from Roca Dreta (1858)
Santiago Rusiñol. The Garden at Aranjuez. Arbor II (1907)Santiago Rusiñol. Green Wall. Sa Coma, V (1904)
Albert Pinkham Ryder. The Toilers of the Sea (ca. 1880-5)Albert Pinkham Ryder. Under a Cloud (ca. 1890)
Ángeles Santos. A World (1929)Ángeles Santos. The Gathering (1929)
Xavier Valls. Peaches and Jug (1974)Xavier Valls. Still Life with Cherries (1974)
Elihu Vedder. The Fable of the Miller, His Son, and the Donkey No. 5 (ca. 1867-8)Elihu Vedder. The Fable of the Miller, His Son, and the Donkey No. 4 (ca. 1867-8)
Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez. View of the Gardens of the Villa Medici, Rome, with a Statue of Ariadne (ca. 1630)Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez. View of the Gardens of the Villa Medici, Rome (ca. 1630)
José Villegas y Cordero. Peasant or The Autumn (ca. 1877)José Villegas y Cordero. The Flock’s Return (ca. 1877)
Frederick Waters Watts. The Lock (ca. 1930)Frederick Waters Watts. On the Thames (ca. 1930)
Frederick J. Waugh. Wild Weather (ca. 1930)Frederick J. Waugh. The Roaring Forties (1908)
Liu Xiaodong. My Egypt (2010)Liu Xiaodong. East (2012)
Ignacio Zuloaga. Landscape in Alhama (1923)Ignacio Zuloaga. Landscape in Calatayud (1930)
Ignacio Zuloaga. Segovia: Old Houses (1917)Ignacio Zuloaga. Houses in Segovia (ca. 1917)

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Cattaneo, Z., Ferrari, C., Schiavi, S. et al. Medial prefrontal cortex involvement in aesthetic appreciation of paintings: a tDCS study. Cogn Process 21, 65–76 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10339-019-00936-9

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Keywords

  • Neuroaesthetics
  • Medial prefrontal cortex
  • tDCS
  • Brain stimulation
  • Beauty