Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

Exp Brain Res. 2010 Jul;204(3):447-56. doi: 10.1007/s00221-010-2283-6. Epub 2010 May 16

Extrastriate body area underlies aesthetic evaluation of body stimuli

Humans appear to be the only animals to have developed the practice and culture of art. This practice presumably relies on special processing circuits within the human brain associated with a distinct subjective experience, termed aesthetic experience, and preferentially evoked by artistic stimuli. We assume that positive or negative aesthetic judgments are an important function of neuroaesthetic circuits. The localisation of these circuits in the brain remains unclear, though neuroimaging studies have suggested several possible neural correlates of aesthetic preference. We applied repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) over candidate brain areas to disrupt aesthetic processing while healthy volunteers made aesthetic preference judgments between pairs of dance postures, or control non-body stimuli. Based on evidence from visual body perception studies, we targeted the ventral premotor cortex (vPMC) and extrastriate body area (EBA), in the left and right hemispheres. rTMS over EBA reduced aesthetic sensitivity for body stimuli relative to rTMS over vPMC, while no such difference was found for non-body stimuli. We interpret our results within the framework of dual routes for visual body processing. rTMS over either EBA or vPMC reduced the contributions of the stimulated area to body processing, leaving processing more reliant on the unaffected route. Disruption of EBA reduces the local processing of the stimuli and reduced observers' aesthetic sensitivity. Conversely, disruption of the global route via vPMC increased the relative contribution of the local route via EBA and thus increased aesthetic sensitivity. In this way, we suggest a complementary contribution of both local and global routes to aesthetic processing.

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