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03-08-2018 | Original Article

Beholders’ sensorimotor engagement enhances aesthetic rating of pictorial facial expressions of pain

Psychological Research
Martina Ardizzi, F. Ferroni, F. Siri, M. A. Umiltà, A. Cotti, M. Calbi, E. Fadda, D. Freedberg, V. Gallese
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s00426-018-1067-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.


The present study addresses a novel issue by investigating whether beholders’ sensorimotor engagement with the emotional content of works of art contributes to the formation of their objective aesthetic judgment of beauty. To this purpose, participants’ sensorimotor engagement was modulated by asking them to overtly contract the Corrugator Supercilii facial muscles or to refrain from any voluntary facial movement while judging the aesthetic value of painful and neutral facial expressions in select examples of Renaissance and Baroque paintings. Results demonstrated a specific increase in the aesthetic rating of paintings showing painful facial expressions during the congruent activation of the Corrugator Supercilii muscles. Furthermore, participants’ empathetic traits and expertise in art were found to correlate directly with the amplitude of the motor enactment effect on aesthetic judgments. For the first time, we show the role of bottom–up bodily driven sensorimotor processes in the objective aesthetic evaluation of works of art.

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