How art affects the brain redux

Posted by on Jan 25, 2010 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Nice little piece here at the WSJ about work to understand how the neuroscience of exhibitions and to put it to work in designing better experiences for gallery attendees.

All well and good, I'm sure (indeed, I wish I'd had access to this kind of work when I was doing my Aesthetics paper for my Philosophy degree) but the piece itself (and the study behind it, if represented fairly) make two really important errors which characterise much recent application of neuroscience techniques to business and decision-making generally.

Error 1: it assumes it that the art (or the marketing or advertising) is a stimulus to the "subject"'s brain – that it does something TO or AT the brain, rather than (as we might more usefully suggest) what it does WITH the brain of subjects. It's the interaction of the two, not just one thing impact on the other.

Error 2: it seems to ignore the primary aspect for the context of most human cognition – the prime feature of the world we have evolved live in – other people. Certain (social) neuroscientists are on the case with regard to the neuroscience of the influence of others on individuals'  behaviour but this seems to me to be of the old school. Also, wondering big time what Hugh would make of it…

Of course, I could be wrong about this. What do you think?


    January 25, 2010

    I’ve got some sympathy with the researchers; in their field there’s no getting away from constructing dependent and independent variables. I checked out Ed Connor’s home page, and his research field is object synthesis in the cortex, including the neural activity patterns evoked by art. I’d actually call that what the brain does WITH the subject, rather than what art does to the brain.

  2. Mark Earls
    January 25, 2010

    Good point. So it’s the journo’s blinkers that are to blame?