Journal of Religion and Health

, Volume 53, Issue 6, pp 1616–1621 | Cite as

Agency and the Annunciation

  • Lealani Mae Y. Acosta
  • John B. Williamson
  • Kenneth M. Heilman
Original Paper


Prior research has revealed that when healthy participants, who are not artists, are asked to draw a person who is performing an action, they are more likely to position the agent on the left and the person or object receiving this action, the patient, on the right. Thus, the goal of this study was to learn whether in works of art, such as those portraying the Annunciation of the angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary, artists would be more likely to place the angel, who is the agent, on the left of Mary, who is the patient. We found that in our sample of 604 paintings of the Annunciation by different artists that the agent Gabriel is significantly more frequently portrayed to left of Mary. Whereas this result supports the left-agent, right-patient hypothesis, the reason for this spatial bias is not entirely known, but may be related to several factors such as the learned left to right direction of reading/writing in European languages, left-versus right-sided emotional facial expressive asymmetries, a left-sided spatial attentional bias and a spatial motor-action preference of upper extremity for making abductive (left to right) movements when using the right upper extremity. Additionally, biblical explanations and theological principles may have influenced the organization of this scene.


Agency Annunciation Attention Emotion Blessed Virgin Mary 


Conflict of interest



  1. Acosta, L., Williamson, J., & Heilman, K. (2012). Which cheek did Jesus turn? Religion, Brain, & Behavior. doi: 10.1080/2153599X.2152012.2739738.Google Scholar
  2. Adolphs, R., Damasio, H., Tranel, D., & Damasio, A. (1996). Cortical systems for the recognition of emotion in facial expressions. Journal of Neuroscience, 16(23), 7678–7687.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Banich, M., Heller, W., & Levy, J. (1989). Aesthetic preference and picture asymmetries. Cortex, 25, 187–195.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barrett, A., Kim, M., Crucian, G., & Heilman, K. (2002). Spatial bias: Effects of early reading direction on Korean subjects. Neuropsychologia, 40, 1003–1012.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bowers, D., & Heilman, K. (1980). Pseudoneglect: Effects of hemispace on a tactile line bisection. Neuropsychologia, 18, 491–498.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Braine, L. (1968). Asymmetries of pattern perception observed in Israelis. Neuropsychologia, 6(1), 73–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown, J., Knauft, E., & Rosenbaum, G. (1948). The accuracy of positioning reactions as a function of their direction and extent. American Journal of Psychology, 61(2), 167–182.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chatterjee, A. (2002). Portrait profiles and the notion of agency. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 20(1), 33–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chatterjee, A., Maher, L., Gonzalez Rothi, L., & Heilman, K. (1995a). Asyntactic thematic role assignment: The use of a temporal-spatial strategy. Brain and Language, 49(2), 125–139.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chatterjee, A., Maher, L., & Heilman, K. (1995b). Spatial characteristics of thematic role representation. Neuropsychologia, 33, 643–648.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chatterjee, A., Southwood, M., & Basilico, D. (1999). Verbs, events and spatial representations. Neuropsychologia, 37(4), 395–402.Google Scholar
  12. Chokron, S., & De Agostini, M. (2000). Reading habits influence aesthetic preference. Cognitive Brain Research, 10, 45–49.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Davidson, R., & Fox, N. (1982). Asymmetrical brain activity discriminates between positive and negative affective stimuli in 10-month-old infants. Science, 218, 1235–1237.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Heller, W. (1991). Hemispatial biases in children on the draw-A-person test. Developmental Neuropsychology, 7, 151–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lanthony, P. (1995). Left handed painter. Revue Neurologique (Paris), 151, 165–170.Google Scholar
  16. Liepmann, H. (1920). Apraxia. Ergebnisse der Gesamten Medizin, 1, 516–543.Google Scholar
  17. Maass, A., & Russo, A. (2003). Directional bias in the mental representation of spatial events: Nature or culture? Psychological Science, 14(4), 296–301.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. McCourt, M. E., & Jewell, G. (1999). Visuospatial attention in line bisection: Stimulus modulation of pseudoneglect. Neuropsychologia, 37(7), 843–855.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Tankle, R. S., & Heilman, K. M. (1983). Mirror writing in right-handers and in left-handers. Brain and Language, 19(1), 115–123.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York (outside the USA) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lealani Mae Y. Acosta
    • 1
    • 2
  • John B. Williamson
    • 1
    • 2
  • Kenneth M. Heilman
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Neurology, Center for Neuropsychological StudiesUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Malcom Randall Veterans Administration Medical CenterGainesvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations