The Modularity of Aesthetic Processing and Perception in the Human Brain

Ulrich Kirk

in Aesthetic Science

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199732142
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918485 | DOI:
The Modularity of Aesthetic Processing and Perception in the Human Brain

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This chapter takes as its starting point the theory of functional specialisation in the visual system. This theory proposes that the visual system is organised into multiple, parallel systems, which are specialised for processing particular attributes of the visual scene (such as colour, motion, form, faces etc.). This parcellation of function has subsequently lead to a neuroaesthetic theory of functional specialisation which proposes that there is not one aesthetic sense but many, each one tied to activity in a functional specialised visual processing system. One category of neuroaesthetic studies derived from this theory may be characterized as exploring artistic styles that are tied to perceptual properties, such as kinetic art with implication for motion perception and Fauvism with implication for colour vision and surrealist art which exposes perceptual object-context relationships. This chapter is additionally concerned with a higher sense of aesthetics to which the individual functional specialised attributes of aesthetics is a prerequisite. This second category of neuroaesthetic studies that will be reviewed are the neural processes involved in the formation of aesthetic judgments. Specifically, the brain’s ability to form aesthetic judgments from a visual stimulus. An aesthetic judgment in this context is defined as the neural valuation mechanism involved in assigning value to a given stimulus in the world. Visual aesthetic stimuli such as paintings has proven to be suitable stimuli for studying the neural processes invoved in computing subjective valuation.

Keywords: subjective valuation; aesthetic judgment; kinetic art; neuroaesthetics; Fauvism; art; visual cortex; functional specialisation

Chapter.  8689 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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