Where does brain neural activation in aesthetic responses to visual art occur? Meta-analytic evidence from neuroimaging studies

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2016 Jan;60:65-71. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.09.009. Epub 2015 Nov 24.


Here we aimed at finding the neural correlates of the general aspect of visual aesthetic experience (VAE) and those more strictly correlated with the content of the artworks. We applied a general activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis to 47 fMRI experiments described in 14 published studies. We also performed four separate ALE analyses in order to identify the neural substrates of reactions to specific categories of artworks, namely portraits, representation of real-world-visual-scenes, abstract paintings, and body sculptures. The general ALE revealed that VAE relies on a bilateral network of areas, and the individual ALE analyses revealed different maximal activation for the artworks' categories as function of their content. Specifically, different content-dependent areas of the ventral visual stream are involved in VAE, but a few additional brain areas are involved as well. Thus, aesthetic-related neural responses to art recruit widely distributed networks in both hemispheres including content-dependent brain areas of the ventral visual stream. Together, the results suggest that aesthetic responses are not independent of sensory, perceptual, and cognitive processes.

Keywords: Beauty and brain; Beauty meta-analysis; Brain and art; Neuroaesthetics; Neuroimaging; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Esthetics*
  • Humans
  • Visual Perception / physiology*