Does artistic experience affect the mental processes used when viewing visual art?

University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
PsychologyArt and Design
DOI: 10.18258/7096
Raised of $1,200 Goal
Funded on 6/18/16
Successfully Funded
  • $1,300
  • 108%
  • Funded
    on 6/18/16

About This Project

Everyone has a unique experience when they look at art. We know that this experience is produced by neuro-cognitive processing of the artwork by the human brain. My main question is whether the mental processes used to appreciate art are different for people with more experience with art. This project will test experienced artists to determine whether they use System 1 (fast, automatic) brain processes or System 2 (slower and more deliberative) brain processes when they view visual art.

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What is the context of this research?

We know that most mental activities are handled by two types of neuro-cognitive processes in the brain referred to as System 1 and System 2. System 1 processes are used when we accomplish a task with little conscious effort or awareness, while System 2 processes are used when we exert our conscious attention and mental effort on a task. In two recent studies from my laboratory, found here and here, we found that people who don’t know much about art use System 1 processes when they look at art and form an impression of it. My question is: Would we find this same result for people who possess substantial experience with art? It’s an open question. We do know that art novices and art experts make different judgments about art when they see it.

What is the significance of this project?

This project tells us much more about the roles of System 1 and System 2 neuro-cognitive processes in appreciation of visual art. When we compare the results of this study to our previous work testing people with little art experience, this will tell us whether the neuro-cognitive processes in the brain used by viewers of visual art are different for people who have more experience with art.

The present study will be of interest to creative artists, art gallery and museum curators, and anyone who uses art as a medium for advertising and marketing. The more we understand about how the human brain perceives art, the more evolution we will see in our approach to art and design and how art is used and appreciated in present-day society.

What are the goals of the project?

24 experienced visual artists will be tested. The participants will be recruited through the arts community in Pittsburgh, PA area. Artists will be screened for experience and knowledge by scores on the Aesthetic Fluency Scale.

Participants will view digitized artworks on a computer. For each artwork, they will rate it using two 1-7 rating scales for “liking” and “understanding.”

For half the participants, at the same time they are viewing the artworks they will perform a memory task. The memory task indexes whether System 1 or System 2 processes are being used.

I intend on publishing the results in an appropriate scientific peer-reviewed journal.


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Participants will be reimbursed at a flat rate of $50 for their participation.

Based on my experience with participants over the years, I know that payment is needed as an incentive to garner participation from a group of working individuals who must take time out of their workday to participate.

Endorsed by

This project will significantly enhance the field of neuro-cognitive research. The results will be of interest from artists to marketing professionals. This is a very exciting research project worthy of investment.

Meet the Team

John Mullennix
John Mullennix
Professor of Psychology


University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown
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John Mullennix

I am a Professor of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. I earned a B.S. in Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology at SUNY-Buffalo. I also served for two years as an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow at Indiana University.

Over the years, I’ve published three scholarly books and numerous peer-reviewed articles and book chapters in the areas of human cognition, language processing, and experimental aesthetics. About five years ago, I decided to completely shift my research program to aesthetics. Part of the reason behind this shift was my lifelong interest in art and photography. With experimental aesthetics, I managed to find a unique niche that fits my interests in art and also fits the empirical research tradition I’ve always followed. To date, my colleagues and I have published some interesting findings and I hope to follow up on those findings with the study that is proposed here.

Project Backers

  • 23Backers
  • 108%Funded
  • $1,300Total Donations
  • $56.52Average Donation
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