The unexplored link between aesthetic perception and creativity: A theory-driven meta-analysis of fMRI studies in the visual domain

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2022 Sep;140:104768. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2022.104768. Epub 2022 Jul 4.


Creative production (related to art-making) and aesthetic appreciation (related to art-viewing) are inherently linked in visual arts, but their relationship has never been explored explicitly in cognitive neuroscience, nor the nature of such connection. The available literature suggests two cognitive processes as possible foundations of these two experiences: motor simulation or inhibitory control. In a meta-analysis of fMRI studies, we addressed this issue: we investigated whether there are shared neurofunctional underpinnings behind aesthetic and creative experiences in the visual domain; further, we examined whether any shared brain activation may reflect either motor simulation or inhibitory processes. A conjunction analysis revealed a common involvement of the pre-SMA in both classes of studies, a brain region, if anything, more concerned with top-down inhibitory motor and volitional cognitive control rather than bottom-up motor simulation. In the art-viewing domain, this finding was primarily driven by figurative rather than abstract art. The methodological limitations in the available literature are discussed together with possible new ways to expand the existing findings.

Keywords: Aesthetic experience; Creativity; FMRI; Inhibition; Meta-analysis; Motor cognition; Visual.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Creativity*
  • Esthetics
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Perception
  • Visual Perception