November 2002
Volume 2, Issue 7
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   November 2002
Viewing portraits by Rembrandt: fMRI reveals cerebellar and prefrontal cortical involvement.
Author Affiliations
  • James Schirillo
    Department of Psychology, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, USA
Journal of Vision November 2002, Vol.2, 593. doi:
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      James Schirillo, Tina Susi, Jonathan Burdette, Paul Laurienti; Viewing portraits by Rembrandt: fMRI reveals cerebellar and prefrontal cortical involvement.. Journal of Vision 2002;2(7):593.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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As in much of Western art, the left cheek of 74% of Rembrandt's female portraits faces the viewer, while the right cheek faces outward in 74% of male portraits. Schirillo1 proposed this asymmetry reflected lateralized hemispheric activity involved in approach/avoidance behavior. Here, participants ranked their desire to approach or avoid 20 Rembrandt portraits on a Likert scale (10 of each gender, half right cheek exposed, half left cheek exposed), while in an MRI scanner prior to a scanning session, followed by 4 fMRI scans. Stimulation consisted of viewing portraits for 30 sec alternating with 30 sec rest periods, 3 stimulation periods/scan. During the scan participants contemplated, but did not actively rate, their desire to approach or avoid each portrait. Portraits were presented multiple times at 2 sec intervals. Data were analyzed using SPM99 software.

As expected, while viewing faces regardless of sex or orientation, activation was noted in right superior temporal sulcus (STS). In addition, activation was present in visual, frontal, and parietal cortices. Interestingly, a region of the right middle frontal gryus consistently activated while the homologous region on the left did not. Moreover, the right cerebellum showed significantly greater activation when viewing right-facing compared to left-facing males. In addition, comparing all right-facing to all left-facing portraits yielded similar cerebellar activation. This may be consistent with reports that the cerebellum receives input from STS and that the cerebellum specifically evaluates and responds to danger rapidly.

1. SchirilloJ. Neuropsychologia, 2000, 38:1593–1606.

Schirillo, J.,Susi,T.,Burdette,J., Laurienti, P.(2002). Viewing portraits by Rembrandt: fMRI reveals cerebellar and prefrontal cortical involvement[Abstract]. Journal of Vision, 2( 7): 593, 593a,, doi:10.1167/2.7.593. [CrossRef]

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