Appreciating Art: Not All in the Brain

When viewing art, some museum-goers get that loving feeling. They like what they see and they see what they like. A few go so far as to have a religious experience of sorts and report sensations of euphoria. These perceptions, originating in the brain, aren’t all that is going on in a museum visitors’ body. The area below the neck is also engaged.

Psychologist Wolfgang Tschacher and colleagues from institutes in Switzerland and Germany recently demonstrated this to be true. They examined the physical responses of 373 museum visitors to the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, in Switzerland. By using a specially made glove on the visitor’s right hand, their motion, heart rate, and skin conductance levels were determined wirelessly.
 

Photo from “ Mapping the Museum Experience .” The visitor in a study is wearing the especially made glove that monitors motion, heart rate, and skin conductance levels wirelessly.

Photo from “Mapping the Museum Experience.” The visitor in a study is wearing the especially made glove that monitors motion, heart rate, and skin conductance levels wirelessly.


Sixty-five percent of the participants in the study were female. The average age of all was 47 years. Each subject spent on average of 28 minutes in the exhibit.
Skin conductance levels (SCL) measure the electrical current readings of the skin which vary with its moisture level. Differences are associated with emotion because the involuntary sympathetic nervous system responsible for the fight or flight response controls SCL. Thus, when someone is excited, activity in the sweat gland is increased which elevates skin resistance. This is recorded as a measure of emotional response.

An immediate post-visit customized computer questionnaire was used to evaluate responses to the 3 artworks where the participant lingered the longest (determined by the motion sensors in the glove). Responses to 3 artworks chosen in advance by the investigators were presented as well. Five areas of aesthetic appreciation were assessed.

“Aesthetic Quality”: Pleasing; beautiful; well done with respect to technique, composition, and content
“Surprise/Humor”: The work is considered as surprising; makes one laugh
“Negative Emotion”: The work conveys sadness, fear, anger
“Dominance”: The work is experienced as dominant, stimulating
“Curatorial Quality”: The work is well staged and hung, suitable in the context of other artworks

Using statistical measures, the researchers found that 3 of the 4 physiological measures used to determine biological responses to art in the museum showed significance.  

Beautiful, high-quality artworks and surprising or humorous pieces were significantly associated with a higher heart rate variability.

Works of art perceived as dominant were significantly associated with a higher skin conductance variability.

Dominant art was also associated significantly with a decrease in heart rate.

Interestingly enough, only skin conductance absolute levels were unassociated with any parameter.

Tschacher and his colleagues were sparse in explaining any meaning this might have for their participants, though this wasn’t really necessary. Their major conclusion stands on its own:  there are measurable physiological response to artworks in a museum. The authors sum this up by saying, “Our findings suggest that an idiosyncratically human property—finding aesthetic pleasure in viewing artistic artifacts—is linked to biological markers.” Our appreciation of art is not all in our heads!

http://www.hcplive.com/physicians-money-digest/columns/my-money-md/06-2015/Appreciating-Art-Not-All-in-the-Brain#sthash.HuoEHcrj.dpuf

 

The Delay That Satisfies: How to Be Happy by Not Buying Things You Don't Need

Buying what we desire can make certain areas in our brains burn brightly. But, if we delay the purchase, this state of mind can change.

Buying what we desire can make certain areas in our brains burn brightly. But, if we delay the purchase, this state of mind can change.

Lately, I’ve had two experiences that seem almost bizarre. I was attempting to buy decorative objects—high-end items from brick-and-mortar businesses that advertise on the Internet. With my initial rush of excitement upon seeing their photos, I even imagined what the pieces would look like in our home. But, because I couldn’t examine them in person, instead of purchasing outright, I asked the sellers questions. The merchants were slow to respond and therein lies my story.

My own reaction to this was, I thought, curious. In the intervening time between my wild enthusiasm about making the objects mine and when the sellers got back to me (days and days and days), I lost interest in the objects altogether. I feel I would have been happy if I purchased them outright, but I couldn’t because I had concerns that needed to be answered. As time went on and the dealer apparently thought I would hold my desire endlessly, I found I was content and didn’t need the pieces that I thought I did. This was in spite of the fact that I initially believed they would enhance my well-being. In the end, I was happy not purchasing what I supposed I wanted.

What in the world happened here?

My turn-about, I believe, is consistent with a Neuroeconomic phenomenon known as “temporal discounting.” It relates to decisions made under uncertainty. And, my decisions were certainly made under those conditions. Here is the neuroscience explanation:

When we desire something and it is available immediately, it is especially attractive. But, if we have to wait, it is less so. In cases where we have to wait, there has to be a payback for delaying the reward. In my case, had the same items been offered at a large discount after the 10- or 20-day interval it took to answer my questions, I might have been persuaded positively. Then, I may have purchased in spite of the wait. But, that didn’t happen. The dealer wanted the same price in spite of the fact that I had to postpone my buying decision. By the time I had enough information, my enthusiasm was all but dead.

Brain regions implicated in decision making under uncertainty. Shown are locations of activation from selected functional magnetic resonance imaging studies of decision making under uncertainty. (a) Aversive stimuli, whether decision options that involve increased risk or punishments themselves, have frequently been shown to activate insular cortex (INS)33,52,53,58 and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC)61. (b) Unexpected rewards modulate activation of the striatum (STR)43,46,53,59,76, particularly its ventral aspect, as well as the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC)43,53,61,76. (c) Executive control processes required for evaluation of uncertain choice options are supported by dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC)52,58 and posterior parietal cortex (PPC)33,34. Each circle indicates an activation focus from a single study. All locations are shown in the left hemisphere for ease of visualization.
From “Risky business: the neuroeconomics of decision making under uncertainty.”
Michael L Platt and Scott A HuettelNat Neurosci. 2008 Apr; 11(4): 398–403.

Published online 2008 Mar 26. doi: 10.1038/nn2062

 
In practical Neuroeconomic terms, temporal discounting relates to many areas of human decision making. For example, this is why it is necessary to give savers an incentive. Basically, they would rather spend their money than put it away for a rainy day. But, if they gain interest on their cash in the bank or in dividend producing blue chip stocks, they get reimbursed for their patience. The brain processes that produce temporal discounting are satisfied.

Of course, savers are putting away money for when they will need it—a very practical thing to do. On the other hand, I was buying something I desired but really didn’t need (nor does anyone else). But, in spite of this I still felt that pull of the immediate over the delayed.
 

Read more at: http://www.hcplive.com/physicians-money-digest/columns/my-money-md/07-2015/the-delay-that-satisfies-how-to-be-happy-by-not-buying-things-you-dont-need#sthash.07eUJpVx.dpuf

 

Art: The Chinese Are Buying?

Sep 17, 2015    |    My Money MD   |   Shirley Mueller, MD 

From MANDARIN & MENAGERIE: THE SOWELL COLLECTION Part I (left) and Part II (right) From Christie’s.com

From MANDARIN & MENAGERIE: THE SOWELL COLLECTION Part I (left) and Part II (right) From Christie’s.com

 “Timing is everything when selling art.” This is what Geraldine Lenain said to me when I visited her in Shanghai, China while speaking at a conference there. Lenain was then international head of Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art for Christie’s Auction House in Shanghai and now is with their Paris office.

For me, at no time could her words be more potent. The recent sale of The Sowell Collection II of Chinese export art at Christie’s in New York City on Wednesday could be described as painful. Only 44% of the auction’s offerings sold. This was roughly half of what the Sowell Collection I sold for back in January at the same auction house in the identical city. Then, 74% of the Chinese export porcelains offered sold. The items in the two sales were from the same collector and not substantially different. What did change, I believe, was the willingness of the Chinese to buy back their heritage. I wrote about this phenomenon back in March, in a column entitled, “The Chinese are Buying and Americans Receive the Benefit.”

Today, there appears to be a shift and indicators point to the Chinese economics as the cause. The Chinese economy has virtually gone from boom to bust. This situation, of course, could influence any Chinese buyer and make her shy of spending her money on possessions she may want but really doesn’t need. That era may be over, at least temporally, for most Chinese. Though there are still bidders from China (I heard the auctioneer refer to them on the phone while listening in on this week’s sale), there likely are fewer that want to spend big sums of money.
 

Read more at: http://www.hcplive.com/physicians-money-digest/columns/my-money-md/09-2015/art-the-chinese-are-buying#sthash.Jb989X0d.dpuf

The Chinese are Buying Back Their Heritage

Shirley M. Mueller

At the recent March 2015 auctions during Asian Week in New York City, I was feeling very lonely. My usual gang was gone. The attendees were virtually all Chinese.

Grey Limestone Figure of a Standing Bodhisattva, China, Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). Lot 758, Sale 11421. Christie’s, Rockefeller Center, NYC. March 20, 2015 Provenance C.T. Loo and Co. New York, 1941. The Collection of Robert H. Ellsworth, New York before 1984.

Grey Limestone Figure of a Standing Bodhisattva, China, Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). Lot 758, Sale 11421. Christie’s, Rockefeller Center, NYC. March 20, 2015
Provenance C.T. Loo and Co. New York, 1941.
The Collection of Robert H. Ellsworth, New York before 1984.

New York City auction houses were humming during Asia Week in mid-March. The buzz, however, was not due to English being spoken as in the past. It was Mandarin and Cantonese that was producing the background din. The sale of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth engendered a mini temporary exodus from China and Taiwan to Manhattan.  

The main floor of Christie’s Rockefeller Center, NYC where the preview of the March 2015 Ellsworth sale began.

The main floor of Christie’s Rockefeller Center, NYC where the preview of the March 2015 Ellsworth sale began.

Ellsworth was arguably the most prominent dealer of all things Chinese and Asian in the middle decades of the 20th century. He died in August 2014 at age 85. The remaining items from his 22-room home on Fifth Avenue in NYC were auctioned by Christie’s. The Chinese and Asian artifacts from other prominent collectors such as Julia and John Curtis were also being offered simultaneously. Sotheby’s, Bonham’s and Doyle’s, also auction houses in NYC, were on the bandwagon with their own Asian sales. This provided an opportunity for mainland Chinese and Taiwanese to come to the city and bring back what had been taken from their homeland more than 60 years earlier.

Doyle’s Auction in NYC about 11:30 AM 3 13 15. As far as the eye could see, all attendees at the auction preview were Chinese. I saw only one Caucasian face in roughly every 50 or 100.

Doyle’s Auction in NYC about 11:30 AM 3 13 15. As far as the eye could see, all attendees at the auction preview were Chinese. I saw only one Caucasian face in roughly every 50 or 100.

For example, the gray limestone figure in the first illustration was purchased originally from C.T. Loo in 1941 in NYC. Mr. Loo obtained this and objects like it in war-torn China and sold them to eager Americans and others who coveted objects from the East. Think of the Rockefellers and their collection at the Asia Society.

For sure, no one will be buying what the Asia Society Collection now owns. But, the possessions of deceased Ellsworth, a dealer, are fair play. 

See more at: http://www.hcplive.com/physicians-money-digest/columns/my-money-md/03-2015/The-Chinese-are-Buying-and-Americans-Receive-the-Benefit-#sthash.nOZQhemr.dpuf