Art looks different – Semantic and syntactic processing of paintings and associated neurophysiological brain responses

Author(s)
Patrick Markey, Martina Jakesch, Helmut Leder
Abstract

Highlights

•Semantic and syntactic inconsistencies in artworks elicit distinct brain activation.

•This is different from those observed previously with everyday life scenes.

•Photos elicit different brain activation than paintings, regardless of consistency.

•This provides evidence for an art-specific processing mode of visual perception.

 

Abstract

The concept of semantics (meaning) and syntax (structure) seems to be an integral way of how humans perceive and order their environment. Processing natural scenes with semantic or syntactic inconsistencies evokes distinct Event-Related Potentials, ERPs, in the N300/400 and P600, respectively (Vo & Wolfe, 2013). Artworks, however, can by definition use violations of natural relationships as a means of style, especially in surrealist art. To test whether inconsistencies are processed differently in artworks, we presented participants with surrealist paintings containing semantic or syntactic inconsistencies, edited versions without inconsistencies, and as control real photographic versions of each painting. Photographs elicited more pronounced negative ERP amplitudes than paintings in all time windows, N300, N400 and P600. However, the lack of an interaction between image type and inconsistency type indicates that all presented images were processed as artworks, probably due to context effects. The ERPs were largely opposite to those reported previously with everyday life pictures, with syntactic inconsistencies driving the earlier components and eliciting higher amplitudes than semantic ones in the N400, and semantic inconsistencies eliciting a higher amplitude in the P600. We conclude that viewing artworks includes a specific processing mode, entailing syntactic and semantic expectations different from those in natural scenes.

Organisation(s)
Department of Cognition, Emotion, and Methods in Psychology
Journal
Brain and Cognition
Volume
134
Pages
58-66
ISSN
0278-2626
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandc.2019.05.008
Publication date
08-2019
Peer reviewed
Yes
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
501001 General psychology, 501011 Cognitive psychology
Keywords
Portal url
https://ucris.univie.ac.at/portal/en/publications/art-looks-different--semantic-and-syntactic-processing-of-paintings-and-associated-neurophysiological-brain-responses(09bef57c-334b-43ed-9dea-c433349ba7b2).html