Our paper “Cognitive control and unusual decisions about beauty: an fMRI study” has been published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Studies of visual esthetic preference have shown that people without art training generally prefer representational paintings to abstract paintings. This, however, is not always the case: preferences can sometimes go against this usual tendency. We aimed to explore this issue, investigating the relationship between “unusual responses” and reaction time in an esthetic appreciation task. Results of a behavioral experiment confirmed the trend for laypeople to consider as beautiful mostly representational stimuli and as not beautiful mostly abstract ones (“usual response”). Furthermore, when participants gave unusual responses, they needed longer time, especially when considering abstract stimuli as beautiful. We interpreted this longer time as greater involvement of cognitive mastering and evaluation processes during the unusual responses. Results of an fMRI experiment indicated that the anterior cingulate (ACC), orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and insula were the main structures involved in this effect. We discuss the possible role of these areas in an esthetic appreciation task.