Science-- there's something for everyone

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Art is in the label of the expert

Here’s a story that should surprise no one:  people react differently to art depending on whether they believe it is authentic or fake.  But did you know those differences are visible in brain scans?

Researchers from the University of Oxford placed 14 participants (labeled ‘human participants’ in the paper, no doubt to avoid provoking the wrath of the NIH over inappropriate use of chimpanzees) in an fMRI brain scanner while they viewed 50 portraits, half of which were painted by Rembrandt and half of which were fakes.  Each image was accompanied by the verbal description ‘authentic’ or ‘copy’ regardless of the actual nature of the painting.  In fact, half the paintings were mislabeled.  As the volunteers were not art experts, they presumably believed whatever description was given for each portrait. In any case, different regions of their brains were activated when they viewed what they believed to be forgeries regardless of the actual origin of the piece.

If this is true, I’m going to attempt to delude myself into thinking every art piece I encounter has been crafted by a grand master.  I plan to start with anything created by my daughter.