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A neurobiological enquiry into the origins of our experience of the sublime and beautiful.

Ishizu T, Zeki S - Front Hum Neurosci (2014)

Bottom Line: This allowed us to select, for each subject, five sets of stimuli-from ones experienced as very sublime to those experienced as not at all sublime-which subjects viewed and re-rated in the scanner while their brain activity was imaged.The results revealed a distinctly different pattern of brain activity from that obtained with the experience of beauty, with none of the areas active with the latter experience also active during experience of the sublime.Sublime and beautiful experiences thus appear to engage separate and distinct brain systems.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Wellcome Laboratory of Neurobiology, Division of Biosciences, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University College London London, UK.

ABSTRACT
Philosophies of aesthetics have posited that experience of the sublime-commonly but not exclusively derived from scenes of natural grandeur-is distinct from that of beauty and is a counterpoint to it. We wanted to chart the pattern of brain activity which correlates with the declared intensity of experience of the sublime, and to learn whether it differs from the pattern that correlates with the experience of beauty, reported in our previous studies (e.g., Ishizu and Zeki, 2011). 21 subjects participated in a functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment. Prior to the experiment, they viewed pictures of landscapes, which they rated on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most sublime and 1 being the least. This allowed us to select, for each subject, five sets of stimuli-from ones experienced as very sublime to those experienced as not at all sublime-which subjects viewed and re-rated in the scanner while their brain activity was imaged. The results revealed a distinctly different pattern of brain activity from that obtained with the experience of beauty, with none of the areas active with the latter experience also active during experience of the sublime. Sublime and beautiful experiences thus appear to engage separate and distinct brain systems.

No MeSH data available.


Related in: MedlinePlus

Behavioral data summed over 21 subjects. (Upper left) Frequency distribution of sublimity rating over post-scan beauty rating, (upper right) over post-scan pleasantness rating, (bottom) over post-scan scale rating, with a fitted linear regression. Size of each circle is proportional to the number for that rating.
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Figure 1: Behavioral data summed over 21 subjects. (Upper left) Frequency distribution of sublimity rating over post-scan beauty rating, (upper right) over post-scan pleasantness rating, (bottom) over post-scan scale rating, with a fitted linear regression. Size of each circle is proportional to the number for that rating.

Mentions: Rating according to experienced sublimity carries with it certain confounds, since “In the infinite variety of natural combinations we must expect to find the qualities of things the most remote imaginable from each other united in the same object” (Burke, 1757, 3: XXVII). Chief among these is beauty, since stimuli experienced as sublime can also be experienced as beautiful or sometimes even ugly. In addition, sublimity often has fear and grandeur (magnitude or scale) attached to it. We therefore thought it wise to ask participants, after the scanning sessions, to rate the stimuli that they had viewed in the scanner along the three axes of beautiful—ugly, pleasant—unpleasant (fearful) and small—grand, each on a scale of 1 to 5 (but note that, as mentioned under Methods, we used a reverse rating for scale, compared to those sublime, beautiful, and pleasant). The frequency distribution of post-scan ratings for experiences besides sublimity (that is, those of beauty, pleasantness, and scale), produced by viewing the same stimuli as the ones in the scanner, are presented in Figure 1 and Table 1. Correlation analyses between ratings according to sublimity and each of the three post-scan ratings (Table 1) shows that sublimity ratings correlated positively with beauty (Pearson correlation, r = 0.520, p < 0.001, 2-tailed), weakly with pleasantness ratings (r = 0.136, p < 0.001), and had a significant negative correlation with scale (r = −0.534, p < 0.001).


A neurobiological enquiry into the origins of our experience of the sublime and beautiful.

Ishizu T, Zeki S - Front Hum Neurosci (2014)

Behavioral data summed over 21 subjects. (Upper left) Frequency distribution of sublimity rating over post-scan beauty rating, (upper right) over post-scan pleasantness rating, (bottom) over post-scan scale rating, with a fitted linear regression. Size of each circle is proportional to the number for that rating.
© Copyright Policy - open-access
Related In: Results  -  Collection

License
Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC4227571&req=5

Figure 1: Behavioral data summed over 21 subjects. (Upper left) Frequency distribution of sublimity rating over post-scan beauty rating, (upper right) over post-scan pleasantness rating, (bottom) over post-scan scale rating, with a fitted linear regression. Size of each circle is proportional to the number for that rating.
Mentions: Rating according to experienced sublimity carries with it certain confounds, since “In the infinite variety of natural combinations we must expect to find the qualities of things the most remote imaginable from each other united in the same object” (Burke, 1757, 3: XXVII). Chief among these is beauty, since stimuli experienced as sublime can also be experienced as beautiful or sometimes even ugly. In addition, sublimity often has fear and grandeur (magnitude or scale) attached to it. We therefore thought it wise to ask participants, after the scanning sessions, to rate the stimuli that they had viewed in the scanner along the three axes of beautiful—ugly, pleasant—unpleasant (fearful) and small—grand, each on a scale of 1 to 5 (but note that, as mentioned under Methods, we used a reverse rating for scale, compared to those sublime, beautiful, and pleasant). The frequency distribution of post-scan ratings for experiences besides sublimity (that is, those of beauty, pleasantness, and scale), produced by viewing the same stimuli as the ones in the scanner, are presented in Figure 1 and Table 1. Correlation analyses between ratings according to sublimity and each of the three post-scan ratings (Table 1) shows that sublimity ratings correlated positively with beauty (Pearson correlation, r = 0.520, p < 0.001, 2-tailed), weakly with pleasantness ratings (r = 0.136, p < 0.001), and had a significant negative correlation with scale (r = −0.534, p < 0.001).

Bottom Line: This allowed us to select, for each subject, five sets of stimuli-from ones experienced as very sublime to those experienced as not at all sublime-which subjects viewed and re-rated in the scanner while their brain activity was imaged.The results revealed a distinctly different pattern of brain activity from that obtained with the experience of beauty, with none of the areas active with the latter experience also active during experience of the sublime.Sublime and beautiful experiences thus appear to engage separate and distinct brain systems.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Wellcome Laboratory of Neurobiology, Division of Biosciences, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University College London London, UK.

ABSTRACT
Philosophies of aesthetics have posited that experience of the sublime-commonly but not exclusively derived from scenes of natural grandeur-is distinct from that of beauty and is a counterpoint to it. We wanted to chart the pattern of brain activity which correlates with the declared intensity of experience of the sublime, and to learn whether it differs from the pattern that correlates with the experience of beauty, reported in our previous studies (e.g., Ishizu and Zeki, 2011). 21 subjects participated in a functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment. Prior to the experiment, they viewed pictures of landscapes, which they rated on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most sublime and 1 being the least. This allowed us to select, for each subject, five sets of stimuli-from ones experienced as very sublime to those experienced as not at all sublime-which subjects viewed and re-rated in the scanner while their brain activity was imaged. The results revealed a distinctly different pattern of brain activity from that obtained with the experience of beauty, with none of the areas active with the latter experience also active during experience of the sublime. Sublime and beautiful experiences thus appear to engage separate and distinct brain systems.

No MeSH data available.


Related in: MedlinePlus