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Alexander Schlegel, Sergey Fogelson, Xueting Li, Zhengang Lu, Prescott Alexander, Ming Meng, Peter Tse; Visual art training in young adults changes neural circuitry in visual and motor areas. Journal of Vision 2012;12(9):1129. doi: 10.1167/12.9.1129.
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© 2017 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.
Visual artists' expertise comes in part from their rich and precise perception of the world and their ability to translate this perception into controlled actions such as drawing and painting. How might acquiring these abilities be reflected in the plasticity of the brain in young adults? Here we investigate the effects of visual art training on the structure and function of the human brain. Undergraduates were tracked for six months as they took a sequence of intensive courses in painting or drawing. Each month they received high-resolution structural and DTI scans as well as functional scans as they a) made judgments about Craik-O'Brien-Cornsweet and Müller-Lyer illusion stimuli and b) created gesture drawings from observation of human figures. Students taking either organic chemistry or engineering problem solving courses were also tracked and served as non-creative learning and creative learning control groups, respectively. Complementing recent findings by Graham & Meng (VSS 2011) that professional artists demonstrate reduced illusory effects compared to naïve subjects, illusion strength decreased during the study for art students more than controls. Art students also improved in gesture drawing ability, and one month into the study these changes were already accompanied by measurable differences in brain function: illusion strength correlated with BOLD signal in dorsal occipital and posterior parietal areas, and art students showed increased cerebellar activity during the gesture drawing task compared to controls. Gray matter volume, white matter connectivity, and task-related functional connectivity were also investigated. These results suggest that plasticity in the neural circuitry underlying perception and action allows visual artists to develop their skillful observation and manipulation of the environment.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2012
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