Modulation of corticospinal excitability during paintings viewing: A TMS study

Francesca Fiori, Ela Plow, Maria Luisa Rusconi, Zaira Cattaneo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It has been hypothesized that embodied mechanisms encompassing the simulation of actions, emotions and corporeal sensations contribute to aesthetic appreciation of art. In line with this, in this study we assessed whether there is a relationship between the extent to which an artwork triggers motor resonance mechanisms and liking for the artwork. To this aim, we measured motor evoked potentials (MEPs) induced by TMS over M1 whilst participants viewed a series of paintings depicting either humans in static postures or performing dynamic actions, and paintings depicting static or dynamic non-human scenes. Following recording of MEPs, participants indicated how much they liked each painting and found the painting to be dynamic. Viewing of paintings depicting dynamic human actions was associated with a significant increase in MEPs size compared to baseline and to viewing of the other paintings. The more the painting conveyed the impression of a dynamic human action, the higher the MEPs amplitude and the more the artwork was liked. However, liking per se was not related to MEPs size. In fact, the positive relationship between MEPs size and preference for paintings depicting humans was entirely mediated by the perceived dynamism of the portrayed actions, and no positive relationship was observed between subjective preference for paintings depicting landscapes/objects and MEPs size. Overall, our data contribute to shed light on the possible role of embodied resonance mechanisms in aesthetic appreciation of visual art, and show that characterization of motor cortical excitability may serve as a promising approach in neuroaesthetics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107664
Publication statusPublished - Oct 29 2020


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