Do you like Arcimboldo's? Esthetic appreciation modulates brain activity in solving perceptual ambiguity

M. Boccia, F. Nemmi, E. Tizzani, C. Guariglia, F. Ferlazzo, G. Galati, A. M. Giannini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Esthetic experience is a unique, affectively colored, self-transcending subject-object relationship in which cognitive processing is felt to flow differently than during everyday experiences. Notwithstanding previous multidisciplinary investigations, how esthetic experience modulates perception is still obscure. We used Arcimboldo's ambiguous portraits to assess how the esthetic context organizes ambiguous percepts. The study was carried out using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in healthy young volunteers (mean age 25.45; S.D. 4.51; 9 females), during both an explicit esthetic judgment task and an artwork/non-artwork classification task. We show that a distinct neural mechanism in the fusiform gyrus contributes to the esthetic experience of ambiguous portraits, according to the valence of the esthetic experience. Ambiguous artworks eliciting a negative esthetic experience lead to more pronounced activation of the fusiform face areas than ambiguous artworks eliciting a positive esthetic experience. We also found an interaction between task and ambiguity in the right superior parietal lobule. Taken together, our results demonstrate that a neural mechanism in the content-dependent brain regions of face processing underlies the esthetic experience of ambiguous portraits. Furthermore, they suggest that esthetic experience interacts with perceptual qualities of stimuli in the right superior parietal lobe, supporting the idea that esthetic experience arises from the interaction between top-down orienting of attention and bottom-up perceptual facilitation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-154
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2015


  • Ambiguity
  • Esthetic judgment
  • FMRI
  • Neuroaesthetic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Medicine(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Do you like Arcimboldo's? Esthetic appreciation modulates brain activity in solving perceptual ambiguity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this