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      Inferring Master Painters' Esthetic Biases from the Statistics of Portraits

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          Abstract

          The Processing Fluency Theory posits that the ease of sensory information processing in the brain facilitates esthetic pleasure. Accordingly, the theory would predict that master painters should display biases toward visual properties such as symmetry, balance, and moderate complexity. Have these biases been occurring and if so, have painters been optimizing these properties (fluency variables)? Here, we address these questions with statistics of portrait paintings from the Early Renaissance period. To do this, we first developed different computational measures for each of the aforementioned fluency variables. Then, we measured their statistics in 153 portraits from 26 master painters, in 27 photographs of people in three controlled poses, and in 38 quickly snapped photographs of individual persons. A statistical comparison between Early Renaissance portraits and quickly snapped photographs revealed that painters showed a bias toward balance, symmetry, and moderate complexity. However, a comparison between portraits and controlled-pose photographs showed that painters did not optimize each of these properties. Instead, different painters presented biases toward different, narrow ranges of fluency variables. Further analysis suggested that the painters' individuality stemmed in part from having to resolve the tension between complexity vs. symmetry and balance. We additionally found that constraints on the use of different painting materials by distinct painters modulated these fluency variables systematically. In conclusion, the Processing Fluency Theory of Esthetic Pleasure would need expansion if we were to apply it to the history of visual art since it cannot explain the lack of optimization of each fluency variables. To expand the theory, we propose the existence of a Neuroesthetic Space, which encompasses the possible values that each of the fluency variables can reach in any given art period. We discuss the neural mechanisms of this Space and propose that it has a distributed representation in the human brain. We further propose that different artists reside in different, small sub-regions of the Space. This Neuroesthetic-Space hypothesis raises the question of how painters and their paintings evolve across art periods.

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          Most cited references 78

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          The functional neuroanatomy of the human orbitofrontal cortex: evidence from neuroimaging and neuropsychology.

          The human orbitofrontal cortex is an important brain region for the processing of rewards and punishments, which is a prerequisite for the complex and flexible emotional and social behaviour which contributes to the evolutionary success of humans. Yet much remains to be discovered about the functions of this key brain region, and new evidence from functional neuroimaging and clinical neuropsychology is affording new insights into the different functions of the human orbitofrontal cortex. We review the neuroanatomical and neuropsychological literature on the human orbitofrontal cortex, and propose two distinct trends of neural activity based on a meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies. One is a mediolateral distinction, whereby medial orbitofrontal cortex activity is related to monitoring the reward value of many different reinforcers, whereas lateral orbitofrontal cortex activity is related to the evaluation of punishers which may lead to a change in ongoing behaviour. The second is a posterior-anterior distinction with more complex or abstract reinforcers (such as monetary gain and loss) represented more anteriorly in the orbitofrontal cortex than simpler reinforcers such as taste or pain. Finally, we propose new neuroimaging methods for obtaining further evidence on the localisation of function in the human orbitofrontal cortex.
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            Abstract reward and punishment representations in the human orbitofrontal cortex.

            The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is implicated in emotion and emotion-related learning. Using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we measured brain activation in human subjects doing an emotion-related visual reversal-learning task in which choice of the correct stimulus led to a probabilistically determined 'monetary' reward and choice of the incorrect stimulus led to a monetary loss. Distinct areas of the OFC were activated by monetary rewards and punishments. Moreover, in these areas, we found a correlation between the magnitude of the brain activation and the magnitude of the rewards and punishments received. These findings indicate that one emotional involvement of the human orbitofrontal cortex is its representation of the magnitudes of abstract rewards and punishments, such as receiving or losing money.
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              Normalization of cell responses in cat striate cortex.

               D Heeger (1992)
              Simple cells in the striate cortex have been depicted as half-wave-rectified linear operators. Complex cells have been depicted as energy mechanisms, constructed from the squared sum of the outputs of quadrature pairs of linear operators. However, the linear/energy model falls short of a complete explanation of striate cell responses. In this paper, a modified version of the linear/energy model is presented in which striate cells mutually inhibit one another, effectively normalizing their responses with respect to stimulus contrast. This paper reviews experimental measurements of striate cell responses, and shows that the new model explains a significantly larger body of physiological data.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                Front Hum Neurosci
                Front Hum Neurosci
                Front. Hum. Neurosci.
                Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
                Frontiers Media S.A.
                1662-5161
                09 March 2017
                2017
                : 11
                Affiliations
                1Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience, Georgetown University Washington, DC, USA
                2Department of Neuroscience, Georgetown University Washington, DC, USA
                3Facultad de Artes, Universidad Nacional de Colombia Bogotá, Colombia
                4Department of Physics, Georgetown University Washington, DC, USA
                5Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Georgetown University Washington, DC, USA
                Author notes

                Edited by: Klaus Gramann, Technical University of Berlin, Germany

                Reviewed by: Anjan Chatterjee, Perelman School of Medicine, USA; Branka Spehar, University of New South Wales, Australia

                *Correspondence: Norberto M. Grzywacz norberto@ 123456georgetown.edu
                Article
                10.3389/fnhum.2017.00094
                5343217
                Copyright © 2017 Aleem, Correa-Herran and Grzywacz.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

                Page count
                Figures: 7, Tables: 0, Equations: 21, References: 105, Pages: 19, Words: 14842
                Funding
                Funded by: National Institutes of Health 10.13039/100000002
                Award ID: T32NS041231
                Categories
                Neuroscience
                Original Research

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