Tag Archives: cognition

Mon-ayyy I can see!

I’ve worn glasses ever since I was in second grade. Yes, I was unfortunately THAT Asian girl who wore her hair in a middle part, high ponytail every day and had blue plastic glasses. Ever since I got glasses, naturally, my vision has gotten worse and I currently stand at a -9.00 prescription for my contacts. As someone who has had bad vision for two-thirds of her life, I was particularly intrigued by our vision module during our “Arts on the Brain” class. We began to explore the world of sight and learned that many famous artists had some sort of visual impairment. Claude Monet, a French impressionist painter, had cataracts which are speculated to have aided him in trailblazing the Impressionist art style. Our class wrapped lab goggles in plastic wrap to mimic the effects of cataracts, and we were able to see the beautiful gardens in Giverny through Monet’s eyes. This led me to research more about the cognitive effects of having visual impairments, specifically cataracts, and what Monet’s cognitive state might have been like.

Left to Right: original photo, drawing, drawing with cataract glasses

First, what exactly are cataracts? A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye, which lies behind the iris and the pupil. Our lens is analogous to a camera lens, hence the name, and it refracts light rays to help focus on image on the retina. A clear lens lets us see a clear picture. The lens is made of water and protein that is arranged in a precise way to keep the lens clear and let light pass through it. However, as we age, some of the protein may clump together and start to cloud a small area of the lens. This is a cataract. Over time, the cataract may grow larger and cloud more of the lens, making it even harder to see (NEI, 2015). Usually, aging is the most commons cause for cataracts, but traumatic injuries, UV exposure, and certain medical problems can also lead to the development of cataracts (Boyd, 2018).

Normal eye vs. Eye with cataract

Monet was diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes in 1912 at the age of 72, which aligns with what we would expect for age-induced cataracts. Monet was very reluctant to go through cataract surgery, and in the end, he only had restorative surgery in one eye. His left eye, clouded by a dense yellow cataract, could not see violets and blues, but his right eye could see these colors clearly. This distortion in color perception and acuity had an impact on his work where tones became muddier and darker and forms became less distinct. Monet apparently complained that “colors no longer had the same intensity for me” and that “reds had begun to look muddy”, and that “my painting was getting more and more darkened” (Gruener, 2015). Monet was audibly upset about his impairment, but I wonder if his mood or cognitive state would have been improved if he had gotten the surgery in both of his eyes.

Monet’s paintings of water lilies are impacted (Left 1889 vs. Right 1915)

Some studies have been conducted that look at the impact of cataract surgery on cognitive function in an aging population. A study by Jefferis et al. looked at the effect of cataract surgery on cognition, mood, and visual hallucinations in older adults who had bilateral cataracts. Participants, who were all 75 years of age or older, were assessed pre and post-operatively. The investigators measured visual acuity through logMAR, Addenbrooke’s Cognitive Examination (ACE-R), the 15-item Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS-15), and the North East Visual Hallucinations Inventory (NEVHI) (Jefferis et al., 2015). ACE-R evaluated six cognitive domains: orientation, attention, memory, verbal fluency, language, and visuospatial ability (Mioshi et al., 2006). Small but significant benefits in cognitive scores were seen 1 year after surgery, but there was no statistically significant difference in mood or hallucinations.

A different study by Fukuoka et al. in 2016 found that cataract surgery could improve cognition, although there was insufficient evidence for a definite conclusion (Fukuoka et al., 2016). A follow-up study in 2018 found that cataract surgery may play a role in reducing the risk of developing mild cognitive impairments independently of visual acuity, but not for dementia (Miyata et al., 2018). A loss of vision can be associated with loss of cognition. It is interesting to see how when the sensory input of sight is disturbed, there are cognitive effects that occur. The relationship between vision and cognition have not been explored extensively, but there are specific visual disorders that have been shown to share common pathogenic pathways with Alzheimer’s disease (Rogers & Langa, 2010). Some speculate that individuals with visual impairment allocate more attention resources to processing sensory information, leaving fewer resources for cognitive tasks (Lindenberger & Baltes, 1994). Additionally, there is a common factor to vision and cognition and that is the degeneration of central nervous function (Christensen et al., 2001. These studies provide great insight into how Monet or even people like our grandparents might be affected by declining vision.

Cute elderly couple with glasses

Cataracts and cognitive impairment are both age-related diseases. Especially with how the proportion of older adults are increasing in the world, it is important to see how we can improve their quality of life as they get older. These studies allowed us to gain more insight into how vision or sight for older populations may have an additional benefit of cognitive improvement.


Boyd K (2018) What Are Cataracts? American Academy of Ophthalmology https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-are-cataracts

Fukuoka H, Sutu C, & Afshari NA (2016) The impact of cataract surgery on cognitive function in an aging population. Current Opinion in Ophthalmology 27:3-8

Gruener A (2015) The effect of cataracts and cataract surgery on Claude Monet. British Journal of General Practice 65:254-255

Jefferis JM, Clarke MP, & Taylor JP (2015) Effect of cataract surgery on cognition, mood, and visual hallucinations in older adults. J Cataract Refract Surg 41:1241-1247

Lindenberger U, Baltes PB. Sensory functioning and intelligence in old age: a strong connectionPsychol Aging 1994; 9:339–355

Miyata K, Yoshikawa T, Morikawa M, Mine M, Okamoto N, Kurumatani N, Ogata N (2018) Effect of cataract surgery on cognitive function in elderly: Results of Fujiwara-kyo Eye Study. PLoS One 13

National Eye Institute (2015) About Cataracts. National Eye Institute https://nei.nih.gov/health/cataract/cataract_facts

Rogers MA & Langa KM (2010) Untreated poor vision: a contributing factor to late-life dementia. Am J Epidemiol 171:728-235

Tay T, Wang JJ, Kifley A, et al. Sensory and cognitive association in older persons: findings from an older Australian populationGerontology 2006; 52:386–394


At Giverny: My own

Cataracts: https://nei.nih.gov/health/cataract/cataract_facts

Monet, Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies (1889): https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437127

Monet, Water Lilies (1915):


Old people with glasses: https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/good-vision-throughout-life/adult-vision-19-to-40-years-of-age/adult-vision-over-60-years-of-age

Our Brains Want Chocolate…Literally

Salut mes amis!

I have literally been waiting since the beginning of this trip for this one day. I’ll give you some clues: It’s sweet. It’s yummy. There’s a golden ticket involved. Do you know it yet? Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory!!!! Okay maybe not that exact one, but I’d say this comes as a close second. Just walking in immersed me in an air of chocolatey yumminess, and this was just the entrance with the gift shop. The excitement was literally killing me.

Le Musée Gourmand du Chocolat

Future Chocolatiers


I think I may just switch careers and become an Oompa Loompa. I mean chocolatier, or do I? Besides, I don’t see why not. I’ve already got my partner, Kara, and I got to say I think we make a pretty good team. With our piping, tapping, and scraping skills, I think we’ve got a solid business. So, if my whole neuroscience plan doesn’t work out, well you know where to find me.


Getting our blessings from the real master 🙂

Well, back to the chocolate making. First, we got to learn how to make the first layer of our molds with some creamy dark chocolate. By the way, they sort of looked like mini Patrick Star’s from SpongeBob. Anyways, after 15 minutes in the freezer, we added some hazelnut and milk chocolate as our center layer and set it back in the fridge. We topped it off with some more dark chocolate and voila! We had created a masterpiece! Très délicieux! Obviously, we weren’t professionals so it was unfortunate that we made quite a bit of an artistic mess on the table. So, to make up for our “accidental” spills, we were forced to clean it up by eating it all. It was tough, but we had to do what was right. I mean, we were simply following in the footsteps of our role models.

Our moms have become the kids…

As we made our way around the museum, I started to think about how chocolate affects our daily lives. Before every exam I have had since high school, I make sure to get some chocolate in my system. Even just a little Hershey kiss. It became a psychological thing for me, but it turns out, chocolate might have some neurological effects on us.

Making our mark everywhere we go!

Chocolate contains cocoa flavanols, which are antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents with known benefits to our cardiovascular health. These chemicals seem to accumulate in the hippocampus, a region that is involved in memory and learning. It is believed that these chemicals interact with various signaling pathways in our brain that help process long-term memories (Sokolov, 2013).

The hippocampus plays a role in processing short-term memory to long-term memory

In a recent study, Mastroiacovo et al. (2014) looks at the effects of chocolate on cognitive function. They recruited 90 elderly individuals who were assigned to consume a drink containing cocoa flavanol every day for 8 weeks. This drink, somewhat like chocolate milk, contained either high, intermediate, or low flavanol concentrations and their cognitive function was assessed using various mental examinations at the beginning and end of the 8-week period. There was improvement seen in all three groups, and more significantly in the high and intermediate groups. This may be an effect of cocoa flavanols increasing the blood flow in the brain. This is important because our blood transports nutrients and fuel to our body, and by increasing its flow, we are able to deliver more “brain food”. Aside from neurological benefits, they also saw a decrease in blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin levels (Mastroiacovo, 2014). All the more reason to consume chocolate, right?

Since this study was done in elderly individuals, I would really like to see if the impact of chocolate would be greater if this type of routine were done throughout childhood. It would definitely give us kids more reason to go chocolate crazy. They also looked at other health improvements (e.g. blood pressure) in addition to cognition, which will encourage investigation of other physiological effects caused by chocolate. 

Presenting chocolate Patrick Stars



Moral of the story in my opinion: Never say no to chocolate! What’s the worst it can do, make you smarter?




À bientot!

Swetha Rajagopalan


Crichton, G. E., Elias, M. F., & Alkerwi, A. (2016). Chocolate intake is associated with better cognitive function: The Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study. Appetite,100, 126-132. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2016.02.010

Mastroiacovo, D., Kwik-Uribe, C., Grassi, D., Necozione, S., Raffaele, A., Pistacchio, L., . . . Desideri, G. (2014). Cocoa flavanol consumption improves cognitive function, blood pressure control, and metabolic profile in elderly subjects: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study–a randomized controlled trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,101(3), 538-548. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.092189

Sokolov, A. N., Pavlova, M. A., Klosterhalfen, S., & Enck, P. (2013). Chocolate and the brain: Neurobiological impact of cocoa flavanols on cognition and behavior. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews,37(10), 2445-2453. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.06.013

Images Retrieved from these sites:


Walking through Paris

Amongst the many changes I have experienced while in Paris, I noticed that I am walking considerably more than I usually do. While most people are aware of the positive impact walking and exercise can have on the body, I am dedicating this post to exploring the effects of exercise on the brain.

Thanks to my handy Fitbit (yes, I know I am a little obsessed), I am able to track my daily activity, so I have a very good idea about how much exercise I am getting. Between going to class, touring museums, and exploring getting lost in the streets of Paris, I am walking an average of over 8 miles every day. Paris is a very “walk-able” city, and my friends and I regularly opt to walk to our destinations instead of using the metro. I know that this must be affecting my cognitive ability, because even while operating on 4-6 hours of sleep every night, I am able to focus and work surprisingly well.

Fitbit evidence that 1) I am walking crazy amounts in Paris, and 2) I can justify eating multiple pastries a day*  *point 2 has not been scientifically proven

Fitbit evidence that 1) I am walking crazy amounts in Paris 2) I can justify eating multiple pastries a day*
*point 2 has not been scientifically proven

A recent study in college-aged females found that after only a single session of moderate exercise, participants showed increased brain activation during a working memory task (Li et al. 2014). Working memory is a limited brain resource that temporarily stores, processes and updates action-related thinking. It is utilized when you need to actively handle information, and your working memory capacity is an important measure of cognitive function. The researchers in this study used a modified N-back task to measure working memory. This task requires participants to attend to a sequence of stimuli, and determine if the current stimulus matches a stimulus that was “N” steps earlier in the sequence. The task gets more and more difficult as N increases, because it becomes harder to keep track of when a stimulus appeared.

A visual representation of the N-back task used in the study by Li et al. (2014)

A visual representation of the N-back task used in the study by Li et al. (2014)

To compare brain function, the subjects performed this task while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, once following exercise, and once following a rest period. The fMRI measures blood oxygenation, which provides a visual image of brain activation. While there was no significant change in subject performance on the task, the data show more brain activation in the exercise condition, especially in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and medial occipital cortex during the 2-back condition. The PFC is well recognized to be important for working memory, and the specific areas of the occipital lobe that changed are also involved in online processing. The lack of performance change limits the conclusions that can be drawn from this study, but it is reasonable for me to assume that my working memory capacity is positively influenced by the increased exercise I get in Paris. The researchers clearly showed that exercise influenced the brain areas important for working memory in subjects of my same age and sex, and this effect would likely be enhanced by an extended exercise routine like mine. A future study could explore the effect of chronic exercise, or use multiple behavioral measures to see if that leads to more pronounced changes in working memory performance.

Working memory is not the only brain function influenced by exercise. In fact, hundreds of studies explore how exercise can change the brain. One of the most common focus areas is how exercise increases brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) in the hippocampus. BDNF is very important for brain plasticity, and the hippocampus is highly involved in learning and memory. One study found that exercise enhanced memory and cognition in rats, through the action of BDNF and the pathways it influences (Vaynman, et al. 2004). A different study focused on the non-neuronal cells in the brain, called glial cells (Brockett, et al. 2015). They found that running influenced synaptic plasticity in rats, producing widespread positive effects in both neurons and glial cells in areas associated with cognitive improvement. The last study looked at showed how exercise can help people’s mental health by reducing the stress hormone cortisol, through overall regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary (HPA) axis (Zschucke et al. 2015).

I walked almost 10 miles before stumbling upon this set at Fete de la musique, and the journey was as fun as the event!

I walked almost 10 miles before stumbling upon this set at Fete de la musique, and the journey was as fun as the event!

It is so interesting to hypothesize about the different ways that my brain may be changing in response to something as simple as walking. Evidence suggests that my working memory capacity, brain plasticity, and mental health are all influenced by exercise. Now that I only have one week left to enjoy Paris, I will make sure to walk everywhere to experience, learn and improve my brain as much as possible. With all of the positive effects Paris seems to have, I know I will be planning a return trip the second I get home!



Brockett AT, LaMarca EA, Gould E (2015). Physical Exercise Enhances Cognitive Flexibility as Well as Astrocytic and Synaptic Markers in the Medial Prefrontal Cortex. PLoS ONE. 10(5): e0124859.

Li L, Men W-W, Chang Y-K, Fan M-X, Ji L, & Wei GX, (2014). Acute Aerobic Exercise Increases Cortical Activity during Working Memory: A Functional MRI Study in Female College Students. PLoS ONE. 9(6): e99222.

Vaynman S, Ying Z, and Gomez-Pinilla F, (2004). Hippocampal BDNF mediates the efficacy of exercise on synaptic plasticity and cognition. European Journal of Neuroscience. 20: 2580–2590.

Zschyke E, Renneberg B, Dimeo F, Wüstenberg T, & Ströhle A (2015). The stress-buffering effect of acute exercise: Evidence for HPA axis negative feedback. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 51: 414-425.




Going Green–Literally.

Paris is unique in its ability to blend modernity and antiquity. In the heart of Paris, buildings are decades if not centuries old, with intricate designs and rows of windows, all neatly laced in criss-crossing streets and alleyways. It’s a dizzying sight, but one that sparks all of my imaginations and Google searches of the city view. In the peripheral regions of the city are giant skyscrapers, metal behemoths proving that Paris is not just an old city, but still vibrant and thriving well in the 21st century.

Square trees--welcome to Paris?

Amidst all of this man-made wonder, still I feel that something is amiss—greenery. Sure there are parks, and trees carefully planted in rows along the streets, but I can’t help but miss that part of home. I grew up in the suburbs of metro-Atlanta, where trees grew haphazardly and buildings were constructed around them. Nature is one of the reasons for which I am excited to return home–to get my hands messy with dirt and tree sap instead of congesting my lungs with cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes. I guess that’s to be expected in the city, but that is the reason why I would not feel ‘at home’ here. When I do find some odd time, I like to venture into the park across Cite U. It’s huge, with rolling hills, monstrous trees, and a laidback atmosphere with people hoping to escape the hustle and bustle of Paris—if only for a moment.

A map of Parc Montsouris

The freshness of nature is what draws me to the great outdoors. It’s rejuvenating, like taking a nice hot shower on a cold day. I feel connected to Mother Earth, and free of the dusty rooms and buildings that seem to trap more than shelter. Though I have come to appreciate the emotional (and even spiritual) boost I receive when taking nature walks, I began to wonder if there are more tangible benefits to walking in the woods. As luck would have it, research has shown the possibility of improving cognition by surrounding oneself in nature.

Parc Montsouris

A study by Berman et al. focused on understanding how nature can affect individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD) (2012). This disorder affects working memory and is characterized by a constant negative mood.  Nature may help these people improve cognitively, or conversely cause them to ruminate and thus worsen their mood. The researchers used 20 participants diagnosed with MDD. Before starting the nature walks, the participants’ short term memory span and mood were measured using the BDS task and PANAS, respectively. BDS (backward digit span) task involves patients repeating a number auditorily presented each second. PANAS (positive and negative affect schedule) is a questionnaire in which participants rate in terms of intensity a list of emotions (both positive and negative) that they may be feeling. Lastly, the participants were asked to ruminate on a negative event in their life, to see if nature walks would alleviate or aggravate the ruminations.

A park near the Bastille, on an archway above the busy streets below

Participants walked on a designated path for about 50 minutes (2.8 miles) in either a secluded park or traffic-heavy downtown area. Upon returning, they again completed the BDS task and PANAS. The researchers also asked the patients what they thought about during their walks, to roughly see if ruminations persisted on the walk. The experiment was repeated a week later, with the participants walking along the path they had not walked in the first session. Results show that the participants had relatively similar BDS score before the tests, but those in the nature walk had higher scores (i.e. a larger memory capacity) than those in the city walk. In terms of mood, the participants scored higher on more positive emotions and lower on negative emotions after the nature walk than after the urban walk. Lastly, participants in either walk ruminated on the negative event to the relatively same degree.

Garden in the Chateau de Villandry

Garden in the Chateau de Villandry

These results of the study are interesting because they suggest that perhaps one can improve memory and mood simply through walking through nature. Even though the ruminations didn’t differ during either walk, still the participants demonstrated better short term memory and mood, indicating that just avoiding those negative thoughts is not why they scored higher on the tests. Maybe environment does play a stronger role in our cognition than previously thought.

Still, I was curious to learn more about the root of cognitive improvement through these nature walks. After some research, I found data that blew my mind. A study investigated the role of a bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae in mice behavior and learning (Matthews and Jenks, 2013). These bacteria are found in soil, water, and plants, i.e. the basic ingredients of a nature walk. Previous research has studied the symbiotic (both parties benefiting) relationship between microbes and animal hosts, and the possible brain-gut connection through these animals improve cognitive abilities after ingesting the bacteria.

Lopsided tree, perfect for climbing

Skipping the gory details, mice were tested for anxiety-related behaviors and speed of completion of maze navigation. Those fed the bacteria had reduced anxiety-related behaviors and completed the maze twice as quickly as mice not given the bacteria. The level of activity did not differ between the experimental and control mice, since both groups used the running wheel a similar amount of time. The results are astonishing because they show that by simply ingesting certain bacteria, mice can improve learning and reduce their anxiety.

If we can somehow test this in humans, and ascertain to what degree the Mycobacterium vaccae bacteria exist in our environment and our bodies, maybe we can come to similar conclusions. These data could potentially show that walking in nature does not only give a psychological boost—we may be actually replenishing our stock of that bacteria, becoming cognitively stronger without even realizing it. Though we may be far from truly understanding this effect in humans, I will take these results as a cue to continue my nature walks. If not for the healthy boost of bacteria, at least I can leave the crowded, polluted city for fresh air, green trees, and a glimpse of untouched beauty.

-Mayur Patel

Relaxing on a giant branch

Relaxing on a giant branch


Berman M, Kross E, Krpan K, Askren M, Burson A, Deldin P, Kaplan S, Sherdell L, Gotlib I, Jonides J (2012) Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of Affective Disorders 140: 300-305

Matthews D, Jenks S (2013) Ingestion of Mycobacterium vaccae decreases anxiety-related behavior and improves learning in mice. Behavioral Processes 96: 27-35

Musée du Louvre

The overwhelming feeling landing in Paris just a few short weeks ago can only be described as a combined wave of nervousness, anxiety and excitement.  I didn’t expect to feel that sensation again so soon, but walking into the Louvre brought the same, overwhelming rush. I was amazed by the architecture of the building and its’ perimeter and tried not to look like a typical tourist stopping to take pictures along every step of the way. After attempting to blend in with the crowd by buying some “French” coffee, we grabbed a map of the museum and (blindly) picked a starting point.

Musée du Louvre

We started with the Ancient Egyptian exhibit, which was confusing given the French descriptions mounted by all of the pieces. The intricacies of the hieroglyphics, artwork and tools, however, transcended the language barrier. After walking through, we were tired (we had climbed the Eiffel Tower earlier that day) and decided to head to one more piece before completing our day—the famous Mona Lisa.

Ancient Egyptian Art

Following the crowd, we made our way to the other side of the museum and quickly saw the international amalgamation surrounding this infamous painting. How is it that this one painting can draw so much attention from so many different people? Part of the interest in this picture lies in the mystery behind its creation—why did Leonardo da Vinci paint this picture? Who is the woman depicted here? Is she real? These questions are unanswered and add to the mystery associated with this artwork. One of the elements of this painting that interests people from across disciplines and countries is the ambiguity in Mona Lisa’s smile.  When we look at this infamous smile in the context of neuroscience, we should consider the role of visual perception. Visual perception in itself is a bridge between art and science, as this is the type of information processing that takes different visual stimuli from our environment and processes them into a “single”, interpretable unit. Visual perception is broken down into different elements such as visual closure, memory, form constancy, spatial skills and more (Chakravarty 2011). All of these factors contribute to how we perceive the outside world via our vision.

Scientists have taken this described cognitive approach to vision and have applied it to different areas of the brain. They have found that vision and interpretation of what we see relies on multiple brain areas. The primary visual area is referred to as V1, and next to this area are different, specialized regions such as V3 (recognizes the shape and size of an object), V4 (color perception) and V5 (essential in identifying object motion) (Chakravarty 2011).

The Mona Lisa

Taking a step back, it is clear that there are multiple parts of the brain with their own specific, intricate mechanisms that can affect the way faces and objects, for example the Mona Lisa, can be perceived and processed across any given population. The human visual system has allowed us to, over time, develop specific visual skills that correspond to face perception (Haxby et al., 2000). For example, individuals with brain damage in the ventral occipitotemporal cortex (an area in the brain associated with visual perception) have difficulty in recognizing faces—but can recognize objects with ease (Haxby et al., 2000). This condition, prosopagnosia, is one that supports the claim that there are very specific areas in the brain associated with face perception—perhaps providing a neurological reasoning behind the fascination with the Mona Lisa. The fact that this is a portrait of a mysterious face might be driving the worldwide fascination.

When actually getting a better look at the Mona Lisa after pushing through the crowds of people, the neuroscience student in me couldn’t help but wonder how many different neurobiological systems were working in order for me to appreciate this piece of art. I had to focus on the picture, discern the face from the background, take in account of the colors, recognize that this was a portrait, and attempt to make associations and recall what I had learned about this piece in my high school art class. Aesthetic preference is yet another factor that has significant neurological underpinnings. Cela-Conde (2011) found, through various neuroimaging studies, that certain areas in the brain (the hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus and the amygdala) are all actively engaged when individuals are aesthetically pleased with a piece of artwork. When patients with neurological conditions (in which these areas degenerate) are presented with previously “pleasing” pieces of artwork, the patients show a completely altered taste and preference. This supports that these areas of the brain have some influence over the cognitive perception and appreciation of artwork. Similarly, studies have reported that damaging the amygdala (an area of the brain primarily associated with emotion) can alter artistic, visual preference. Individuals with amygdala damage generally expressed a liking for “…geometrical shapes, landscapes and color arrangements” when compared to the healthy, control groups (Cela-Conde et al., 2011).

Mona Lisa Selfies...

Perhaps the fascination with the Mona Lisa is brought about by the evolutionarily driven sensitivity to faces. Or, maybe there is a genetic predisposition in some of our brain’s visual areas to appreciate certain types of artwork. Some scientists even suggest that the ambiguity in her smile activates area V5, an area of the brain involved in perceiving movement, which enhances aesthetic appeal (Chakravarty 2010). Regardless of the reasoning, there are complex neurological mechanisms by which we process not only the Mona Lisa, but also every other sculpture, painting or realistically anything in our visual field. Visual perception in itself relies on cognitive theories and activation of various brain areas to yield some form of appreciation of art—now try not to think about that next time you go to a museum.

Written by: Noareen Ahmed


Cela-Conde C, Agnati L, Huston J, Mora F, Nadal M (2011) The neural foundations of aesthetic appreciation. Progress in Neurobiology 94: 39-48.

Chakravarty A (2010) Mona Lisa’s smile: A hypothesis based on a new principle of art neuroscience. Medical Hypotheses 75: 69-72.

Haxby J, Hoffman E, Gobinni M (2000) The distributed human neural system for face perception. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 4: 223-233.