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Teresa Pegors, Russell Epstein; Sensitivity to the aesthetic value of scenes in the parahippocampal place area. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):1119. doi: 10.1167/11.11.1119.
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Previous work has shown that the parahippocampal place area (PPA) responds to physical qualities of a visual scene such as openness and geometric layout (Pegors and Epstein, VSS 2010). “Aesthetic value” is a more abstract visual quality that has also been revealed to correlate with activity in higher-level visual regions (Chatterjee et al., 2009). While one recent experiment has suggested that the PPA responds more strongly to aesthetically-preferred scenes (Yue et al., 2007), it is unclear how this effect interacts with PPA sensitivity to geometric quantities such as layout. We explored this question by scanning subjects with fMRI while they made aesthetic preference ratings of scenes which contained varying degrees of openness. Behavioral data showed that open scenes were judged as more aesthetically pleasing than closed scenes. fMRI data revealed that both openness and scene preference were, in fact, negatively correlated with BOLD activity in the PPA. When openness was controlled, there was no significant effect of scene preference on PPA activity. These results indicate that activity in the PPA is not primarily modulated by the dimension of aesthetic preference per se, but is instead highly sensitive to other scene characteristics that may indirectly affect aesthetic judgments.
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