Brain Feels Rewarded While Looking at Art

Participants were not asked if they enjoyed what they saw, or even if they considered it art, in order to avoid any biasing as a result of the question asked. Instead, as participants viewed the images, researchers scanned the volunteers’ brain activity (using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI) as they viewed paintings versus photographs.

Interestingly, the brain regions activated by art images (as opposed to photographs) were independent from those brain regions that became active during aesthetic preference.

Specifically, the results reveal that not only did art viewing stimulate the ventral striatum, but it also activated the hypothalamus (associated with appetite regulation) and the orbitofrontal cortex (associated with risk-taking, impulse control and detection of social rules).

Traci Pedersen for Psych Central

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