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Brain Reacts Differently To Works Said To Be Authentic

First Posted: 12/06/11 03:36 PM ET Updated: 12/06/11 03:36 PM ET

Rembrandt

Today it is deemed logical to travel great distances and pay a lot of money to see a single masterpiece, an original work of art. To do all this for a fake? Not so logical... But does it really matter if the work is truly authentic or only if someone tells us it is?

A new neurological study reveals that while our brain cannot itself differentiate between a genuine work of art and a fake, it does react differently when someone tells us that a work is fake. It doesn't matter whether the work really is a fake or not; our reaction depends upon what we are told.

Oxford University academics placed 14 people in a brain scanner and showed them different images of Rembrandt portraits, some authentic and some not.

The brain signals of the participants showed that they could not differentiate between the real work and the imposters, but when they were told which pieces were copies the brain reacted, regardless of whether or not the works really were copies.

When told a work was an original, participants were stimulated in the "parts of the brain that deal with rewarding experiences such as tasting good food or winning a bet." But upon hearing the work was a fake, the brain underwent a complex range of reactions.

Scientifically speaking, hearing that a work was a copy "evoked stronger responses in frontopolar cortex (FPC), and right precuneus, regardless of whether the portrait was actually genuine." This led to the belief that the FPC contributes to our visual reactions and aesthetic judgments, thus our aesthetic judgments are far more multifaceted than a single visual reaction.

Oxford professor Martin Kemp noted that he wished to conduct the experiment again using only art experts. But as of now, according to the Press Association: "The findings show that reaction to art is 'not rational' as the viewer reacts to what they are told about a piece of work - regardless of whether it truly is genuine." As if anyone ever thought that art viewing was rational!

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Filed by Priscilla Frank  |