Neural correlates of viewing paintings: evidence from a quantitative meta-analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging data

Brain Cogn. 2014 Jun:87:52-6. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2014.03.004. Epub 2014 Apr 4.


Many studies involving functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have exposed participants to paintings under varying task demands. To isolate neural systems that are activated reliably across fMRI studies in response to viewing paintings regardless of variation in task demands, a quantitative meta-analysis of fifteen experiments using the activation likelihood estimation (ALE) method was conducted. As predicted, viewing paintings was correlated with activation in a distributed system including the occipital lobes, temporal lobe structures in the ventral stream involved in object (fusiform gyrus) and scene (parahippocampal gyrus) perception, and the anterior insula-a key structure in experience of emotion. In addition, we also observed activation in the posterior cingulate cortex bilaterally-part of the brain's default network. These results suggest that viewing paintings engages not only systems involved in visual representation and object recognition, but also structures underlying emotions and internalized cognitions.

Keywords: Aesthetics; Default mode network; Emotion; Scene perception; Visual art.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Esthetics*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Paintings*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*