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Neural representations of visual aesthetic experience (VAE): a meta-analysis

Abstract

The present study intended to investigate the generic nature of visual aesthetic experience. Researchers have not agreed upon what constitutes visual aesthetic experience, and the present study proposed that visual aesthetic experience is comprised of at least two components: enhanced visual processing and positive emotional and reward experience. We applied a general activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis to 42 functional magnetic resonance imaging experiments described in 37 published studies. The general activation likelihood estimation revealed activation in the left orbitofrontal cortices and bilateral anterior cingulate cortex, which was thought to be related to emotional and reward processes, and activation in the right fusiform gyrus. In addition, a conjunction analysis of passive viewing tasks and tasks with explicit instructions showed activation in the anterior cingulate cortex/orbitofrontal cortex, and contrast analysis revealed stronger activation in the anterior cingulate cortex/orbitofrontal cortex during the passive viewing task without explicit instructions to make aesthetic evaluations, suggesting that stronger emotional experiences occur under such conditions. A conjunction analysis of groups with different cultural backgrounds showed activation in the ventral anterior cingulate cortex/orbitofrontal cortex, suggesting that there are universal cultural components of visual aesthetic experience. Together, our findings complement the existing literature by including all kinds of visual stimuli that could induce an aesthetic experience in the viewer and contributes to our understanding of aesthetics by showing that it involves enhanced visual sensation and positive emotional and reward experience.

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Feng, X., Gan, J., Huang, X. et al. Neural representations of visual aesthetic experience (VAE): a meta-analysis. Cult. Brain (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40167-021-00102-z

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Keywords

  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Visual aesthetic experience
  • Meta-analysis
  • Activation likelihood estimation