Neurological Perceptions of Art through Augmented and Virtual Realities

Professional Forum

Friday, April 03, 2020: 2:00pm - 2:50pm -

Brendan Ciecko, Cuseum, USA

Ever since Walter Benjamin published his influential essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in 1935, the art and cultural world has been fascinated by what makes art “real.” Benjamin’s core claim is that people can only perceive the “aura” of artworks by standing before the original. Between 1935 and 2019, however, the technology used to recreate and display artworks has evolved in profound ways. With the advancements in AR and VR, it has become possible to experience art through realistic virtual forms. Today, each week offers another news headline of museums experimenting with immersive XR technology.

In light of these developments in AR and VR technology, this session revisits century-old questions about how people experience art through various media and preconceived notions of what constitutes an “authentic” experience. In this session, we will expound upon new research conducted in 2019 by a team of neuroscientists supervised by MIT faculty, which examined the emotive responses to original artworks, as compared to their AR and VR equivalents. The study sits at the intersection of tech, neuroscience, arts + culture, and museum studies, and represents the pinnacle of how cross-disciplinary research can deliver fresh insights to the museum sector.

Since the earliest introduction of digital technology into the museum sector, museum professionals, visitors, and cultural critics at-large have debated its effects. Until now, there has never been an empirical study that looks beyond opinion and taps into neurological activity to understand the human response to art experienced in real-life compared to virtual.

The goal of the session is to share discoveries about how visitors respond to art when it is experienced through physical and digital media. Additionally, in an age where museums are increasingly making evaluations through surveys and visitor feedback, the session will share how to introduce new perspectives with biometric data.

Ciecko, B., & Sinha, P., ”Looking at Human Emotions through the Lens of Virtual Art.” MIT Graffenegg Forum 2019. (

Blaszczyk, C., “3Q: The interface between art and neuroscience. Published April 16, 2019. Consulted September 13, 2019.

Asher, T., “Unlocking the Neuroscience of Visitor Experience.” Published August 5, 2019. Consulted September 13, 2019.

Noe, A., “Can Neuroscience Help Us Understand Art?” Published February 19, 2016. Consulted September 13, 2019.

Noe, A., “Art and the Limits of Neuroscience.” Published December 4, 2011. Consulted September 13, 2019.

Kemp, M., “Neuroscience vs art: Let's talk across the divide.” Published December 14, 2016. Consulted September 13, 2019.

Landau, M., “What the brain draws from: Art and neuroscience.” Published September 15, 2012. Consulted September 13, 2019.