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Art and Brain: An integrated approach to causative analysis of neural function in perception of art using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Art and Brain (Art and Brain: An integrated approach to causative analysis of neural function in perception of art using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation)

Reporting period: 2015-07-01 to 2017-06-30

This project facilitated a collaboration between Dr. Matthew Pelowski (formerly postdoc at Copenhagen University, Denmark) and the host, Dr. Helmut Leder, Faculty of Psychology, the University of Vienna, Austria. This focused on the study of the behavioral impact of key regions of the brain when healthy individuals engage art. That is, how does activity in the brain, and thus the use of specific regions, contribute to our emotional or evaluative experience? This was studied by using a “causative” method. By using techniques called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) or Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS), we can temporarily induce an electrical charge which enhances or represses activity in specific brain regions for a number of minutes. By asking individuals to perform a task, such as view art, and comparing against a condition in which they are not being stimulated, we can identify outward emotional, appraisal, or physiological impacts from the brain.

Importance for society?
Causative analysis is fundamental to advancement in art perception and neuropsychological research. In the last decade with advances in brain imaging techniques—notably Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)—analysis of the brain and art has identified a consistent yet functionally diverse map of involved regions. However despite gains from previous research, perhaps the most important implication of these results has so far not been addressed. Because of technical limitations in monitoring and theoretical limitations in experimental design, there have been few attempts to consider what specific effects these areas actually have nor what are their functions. That is, while much has been done to unlock relative impact of art on activity in the brain, the reverse—a causative analysis of brain region impact on evaluative, emotional and cognitive experience of art—had not been completed. The “next step” for both art’s behavioral and neurological study must be a fully experimental consideration of what these areas actually do or how they may functionally contribute in our processing experience. This is also indispensable for progress in general neuroscience, offering insight into the brain’s role in emotion, cognition, and judgment. It may also afford a basis for understanding brain damage and for dementia/Alzheimer’s research. Findings can be used for rehabilitative art-therapy and will open exciting avenues with direct impact on Horizon 2020 goals of “coping with aging population” and applying “innovative technology” in Europe.

This project facilitated the mobility of Dr. Matthew Pelowski to the University of Vienna. The researchers engaged in a two-way training program whereupon Pelowski shared his previous expertise with Leder’s laboratory. He also received training in causative methods. The knowledge resources were then combined in a research program whereby we considered three target brain regions (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, anterior temporal, parietal), which had been identified as playing a key role in experiencing art. Impact from causative manipulation was assessed via recording of cognitive, emotional, and evaluative reactions. The findings were also expected to culminate in a new, updated integrated model of art processing, which combines cognitive, behavioral and neurological evidence, and could serve as a new basis for the community of behavioral and brain study. Via Dr. Lamm’s ongoing diagnostic work, we also expected to explore future possibilities for the consideration of therapeutic/clinical impacts regarding identification and rehabilitation of brain damage (e.g. Dementia/Alzheimer’s, stroke). Additionally, Pelowski oversaw up to five Masters-level students, who could work on aspects of the project. The project also had secondary goals of specialized training for Pelowski in teaching and project management, achievement of a position of assistant professor, and establishment of a new integrated research node at UV, uniting Europe/US/Asia research teams, as well as general dissemination via conferences and other activities.
The project resulted in the successful training of Pelowski in causative methods. It resulted in the involvement of five Masters students in project-related studies (with two members currently with peer reviewed publications). The project successfully resulted in several empirical studies using causative methods with art (four papers currently being written). This project also led to the publication of a major new model in a high impact journal (Physics of Life Reviews, Impact Factor: 13.8) as well as the to-date planning or completion of three papers relating to brain damage or disease, one paper relating to theoretical discussions of causative methods for art study or related fields such as creativity/art making, and overall 19 papers—to date 11 currently published/in press—five conference presentations, and invited speeches in Austria, Copenhagen, and Japan made possible through the collaboration of this project. The project also largely fulfilled its stated additional goals for wider dissemination and career development, with Dr. Pelowski recently recognized as the recipient of the 2016 Baumgarten Award for Outstanding Contributions of Young Scientists at the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics. He is also currently a visiting Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Vienna. In addition, Pelowski and Leder have cemented their research partnership, with several ongoing causative studies, as well as a new collaboration regarding museum studies of art.
The project met or exceeded our objectives. This resulted in both several empirical papers, and review papers for causative studies in both art-related topics and in more general aspects of psychology (e.g. creativity, described above). We were able to, for the first time, create a new model of art interaction or visual processing which incorporates our knowledge of brain function and even networks to cognitive, emotional, and other behavioural outputs. This was published in Physics of Life Reviews with an impact factor of 13.8. The model already has 15 citations, and will make a major impact in the field for years to come. In conjunction with the establishment of a causative study focus at Vienna University, this can have major impacts on economics (consumer choice), sociology, museum studies, and clinical or therapeutic vectors. Through our connected projects stemming from the main studies, we have also been able to begin investigating social aspects via tDCS. This may help us to better understand and even modify how we integrate our personal taste with social information when making assessments. We have also launched a new causative study on use of tDCS to enhance creativity or even skill in drawing or art making. The project also has led to the ongoing exploration of implications for a number of brain-involved afflictions (Parkinson’s disease, Autism). We also are currently exploring future possibilities for Dementia/Alzheimer’s. Additionally, the project’s long-term goal of an integrated pan- Europe/US/Asia research team based in Dr. Leder’s group and at the forefront of empirical approaches to psychological and neuroaesthetics is well underway. We have implemented an official research collaboration of UV with Keio University, Japan and have emerging projects with Vienna University of Applied Arts.