Abstract

Visual art offers cognitive neuroscience an opportunity to study how subjective value is constructed from representations supported by multiple neural systems. A surprising finding in aesthetic judgment research is the functional activation of motor areas in response to static, abstract stimuli, like paintings, which has been hypothesized to reflect embodied simulations of artists' painting movements, or preparatory approach–avoidance responses to liked and disliked artworks. However, whether this motor involvement functionally contributes to aesthetic appreciation has not been addressed. Here, we examined the aesthetic experiences of patients with motor dysfunction. Forty-three people with Parkinson's disease and 40 controls made motion and aesthetics judgments of high-motion Jackson Pollock paintings and low-motion Piet Mondrian paintings. People with Parkinson's disease demonstrated stable and internally consistent preferences for abstract art, but their perception of movement in the paintings was significantly lower than controls in both conditions. The patients also demonstrated enhanced preferences for high-motion art and an altered relationship between motion and aesthetic appreciation. Our results do not accord well with a straightforward embodied simulation account of aesthetic experiences, because artworks that did not include visual traces of the artist's actions were still experienced as lower in motion by Parkinson's patients. We suggest that the motor system may be involved in integrating low-level visual features to form abstract representations of movement rather than simulations of specific bodily actions. Overall, we find support for hypotheses linking motor responses and aesthetic appreciation and show that altered neural functioning changes the way art is perceived and valued.

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