Sunday, 2 October 2011

Training facilitates object recognition in cubist paintings

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2010

To the naïve observer, cubist paintings contain geometrical forms in which familiar objects are hardly recognizable, even in the presence of a meaningful title. We used fMRI to test whether a short training session about Cubism would facilitate object recognition in paintings by Picasso, Braque and Gris. Subjects, who had no formal art education, were presented with titled or untitled cubist paintings and scrambled images, and performed object recognition tasks. Relative to the control group, trained subjects recognized more objects in the paintings, their response latencies were significantly shorter, and they showed enhanced activation in the parahippocampal cortex, with a parametric increase in the amplitude of the fMRI signal as a function of the number of recognized objects. Moreover, trained subjects were slower to report not recognizing any familiar objects in the paintings and these longer response latencies were correlated with activation in a fronto-parietal network.These findings suggest that trained subjects adopted a visual search strategy and used contextual associations to perform the tasks. Our study supports the proactive brain framework, according to which the brain uses associations to generate predictions.