Move me, astonish me… delight my eyes and brain: The Vienna Integrated Model of top-down and bottom-up processes in Art Perception (VIMAP) and corresponding affective, evaluative, and neurophysiological correlates

Phys Life Rev. 2017 Jul:21:80-125. doi: 10.1016/j.plrev.2017.02.003. Epub 2017 Feb 27.


This paper has a rather audacious purpose: to present a comprehensive theory explaining, and further providing hypotheses for the empirical study of, the multiple ways by which people respond to art. Despite common agreement that interaction with art can be based on a compelling, and occasionally profound, psychological experience, the nature of these interactions is still under debate. We propose a model, The Vienna Integrated Model of Art Perception (VIMAP), with the goal of resolving the multifarious processes that can occur when we perceive and interact with visual art. Specifically, we focus on the need to integrate bottom-up, artwork-derived processes, which have formed the bulk of previous theoretical and empirical assessments, with top-down mechanisms which can describe how individuals adapt or change within their processing experience, and thus how individuals may come to particularly moving, disturbing, transformative, as well as mundane, results. This is achieved by combining several recent lines of theoretical research into a new integrated approach built around three processing checks, which we argue can be used to systematically delineate the possible outcomes in art experience. We also connect our model's processing stages to specific hypotheses for emotional, evaluative, and physiological factors, and address main topics in psychological aesthetics including provocative reactions-chills, awe, thrills, sublime-and difference between "aesthetic" and "everyday" emotional response. Finally, we take the needed step of connecting stages to functional regions in the brain, as well as broader core networks that may coincide with the proposed cognitive checks, and which taken together can serve as a basis for future empirical and theoretical art research.

Keywords: Art perception; Cognitive model; Emotion; Neuroaesthetics; Top-down bottom-up integration.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Art*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition
  • Emotions*
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Visual Perception*