TMS over the superior temporal sulcus affects expressivity evaluation of portraits
When viewing a portrait, we are often captured by its expressivity, even if the emotion depicted is not immediately identifiable. If the neural mechanisms underlying emotion processing of real faces have been largely clarified, we still know little about the neural basis of evaluation of (emotional) expressivity in portraits. In this study, we aimed at assessing—by means of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)—whether the right superior temporal sulcus (STS) and the right somatosensory cortex (SC), that are important in discriminating facial emotion expressions, are also causally involved in the evaluation of expressivity of portraits. We found that interfering via TMS with activity in (the face region of) right STS significantly reduced the extent to which portraits (but not other paintings depicting human figures with faces only in the background) were perceived as expressive, without, though, affecting their liking. In turn, interfering with activity of the right SC had no impact on evaluating either expressivity or liking of either paintings’ category. Our findings suggest that evaluation of emotional cues in artworks recruit (at least partially) the same neural mechanisms involved in processing genuine biological others. Moreover, they shed light on the neural basis of liking decisions in art by art-naïve people, supporting the view that aesthetic appreciation relies on a multitude of factors beyond emotional evaluation.
KeywordsSTS TMS Artworks Emotion
This work was supported by a PRIN grant (2015WXAXJF) by Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research to Z.C.
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