Visual aesthetic evaluations, which impact decision-making and well-being, recruit the ventral visual pathway, subcortical reward circuitry, and parts of the medial prefrontal cortex overlapping with the default-mode network (DMN). However, it is unknown whether these networks represent aesthetic appeal in a domain-general fashion, independent of domain-specific representations of stimulus content (artworks versus architecture or natural landscapes). Using a classification approach, we tested whether the DMN or ventral occipitotemporal cortex (VOT) contains a domain-general representation of aesthetic appeal. Classifiers were trained on multivoxel functional MRI response patterns collected while observers made aesthetic judgments about images from one aesthetic domain. Classifier performance (high vs. low aesthetic appeal) was then tested on response patterns from held-out trials from the same domain to derive a measure of domain-specific coding, or from a different domain to derive a measure of domain-general coding. Activity patterns in category-selective VOT contained a degree of domain-specific information about aesthetic appeal, but did not generalize across domains. Activity patterns from the DMN, however, were predictive of aesthetic appeal across domains. Importantly, the ability to predict aesthetic appeal varied systematically; predictions were better for observers who gave more extreme ratings to images subsequently labeled as "high" or "low." These findings support a model of aesthetic appreciation whereby domain-specific representations of the content of visual experiences in VOT feed in to a "core" domain-general representation of visual aesthetic appeal in the DMN. Whole-brain "searchlight" analyses identified additional prefrontal regions containing information relevant for appreciation of cultural artifacts (artwork and architecture) but not landscapes.
Vessel, E. A., Isik, A. I., Belfi, A. M., Stahl, J. L., & Starr, G. G. (2019). The Default-Mode Network Represents Aesthetic Appeal that Generalizes Across Visual Domains. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(38), pp. 19155-19164. National Academy of Sciences.
The definitive version is available at https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1902650116
Intelligent Systems Center
Keywords and Phrases
Architecture; Artwork; Default-mode network; Natural landscape; Visual aesthetics
International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)
Article - Journal
© 2019 National Academy of Sciences, All rights reserved.
01 Sep 2019