Our mental state can affect how we perceive art, say scientists who found why the same piece of artwork can attract admiration or rejection from different people.
"One intuitive explanation is that personality and the way in which we visually examine artwork contributes to our preferences for particular art," said Nicole Thomas, from James Cook University in Australia.
Volunteers were psychologically assessed in relation to their personality and then shown abstract art pictures.
They were asked to rate the pictures and say how much they would pay for them. The participants' eye movements were tracked as they looked at the images.
The relationship between personality traits and artwork preferences was already well established, Thomas said.
Scientists knew, for instance, that neurotic people found abstract and pop art more appealing.
"We found that people who tended towards neuroticism paid more attention to the left side of a picture, and those with traits related to schizophrenia looked less often at the top of a picture," said Thomas.
This was significant because it fits well with known attentional differences in individuals with neuroticism.
"For example, we tend to look to the left side of images first and the fact that these individuals spent more time looking at the left overall suggests they find it harder to disengage their attention," she said.
"In contrast, those participants with mild schizophrenic tendencies appear to have relied on an entirely different scanning strategy. The tendency to focus on the lower portion of an image has previously been linked with deficits in attentional focus and control," she added.
In contrast to people with these particular personality traits, she said, in general, participants' eye movements were concentrated in the upper right quadrant of their visual field.
"The right hemisphere of the brain plays a significant role in emotional processing. Artwork is inherently emotional and the emotional reactions elicited by abstract artwork might lead people to focus their attention within the upper right quadrant to better engage that emotional processing," Thomas said.
Activating the right hemisphere of the brain is also consistent with superior visuospatial processing, which would encourage more thorough exploration of abstract artwork.
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