[-empyre-] neuroaesthetics and modeling

Anna Munster A.Munster at unsw.edu.au
Sat Sep 27 08:16:59 EST 2008

On 26/09/2008, at 7:26 AM, Barbara Stafford wrote:
> just to leap in. the brain modularity implications of  
> "neuroaesthetics" do have a political/marketing purpose and use.   
> recent studies on  hidden political bias[the disjunction between how  
> people say they willl vote and how they do in fact vote], targeted  
> neuro-marketing, and reward-center directed advertising,  in  
> particular, make deliberate, and some would say cynical,  use of   
> dedicated neural systems that precisely cannot resist them through  
> conscious will.

Yes indeed....I am cross-posting an interesting article (below my  
post) that appeared on another list I am on at the moment - IDC  
(moderated by Trebor Scholz). There has been a very good parallel  
discussion on this list about the politics of perception where issues  
to do with the 'model' of cognitive psychology deployed in direct  
political applications such as the one below have come up. ( I think  
Barbara is being focused and speaking of the 'brain modularity' model  
here whereas I think Andrew is speaking more broadly abut  

However, what I do find interesting about these kind of psychological  
experiments in neural marketing etc is that while they demonstrate a  
kind of capture of something and its application for furthering  
conservatism, capitalism whatever, they nonetheless can also reveal  
something in excess of these....which I suppose I want to name  
something like affective percepts or perceptual affects....Brian  
Massumi has written about this in his article 'The Autonomy of Affect'  
in Parables for the Virtual.

This interestingly connects up with some things Tim was saying about  
trauma and excess...for in work being done by some art theorists on  
trauma and visual culture (and I include Tim's earlier work here), it  
is precisely this affect - registering prior to cognition,  
consciousness, representation, whatever - that is the least able to be  
dealt with by the very modularity or cognitive models being then used  
to reharness and account for it. Unfortunately, it is very  
successfully dealt with by neo-conservative politics, which chooses to  
prolong affect via anxiety in order to modulate populations in various  
ways.( for example via the war on terror by consistently producing  
terrifying event-scenarios)

So, I feel that the affective or perceptual revelations of  
neuroscience need to be really rethought by those of us who do not  
want to exist within a climate of fear etc but prefer such affects as  
joy or hope.to become an 'atmosphere'. Ok, now this is going  to sound  
incredibly romantic but...there are times when I really feel that  
aesthetic experience is capable of doing this. I don't mean some avant- 
garde dream of changing the world via art. But I do mean even the  
tiniest of micro-shifts that occur, for example, when walking through  
Eliasson's yellow mist and really feeling the neuro-sensate changes or  
even what happens in a Turrell piece or a work like Breath by Ulrike  
Gabriel (an early example of a very affective new media installation)


Political views 'all in the mind'
By Matt McGrath
Science reporter, BBC World Service

Voters' mind are made up long before they arrive at the ballot box

Scientists studying voters in the US say our political views may be an
integral part of our physical makeup.
Their research, published in the journal Science, indicates that
people who are sensitive to fear or threat are likely to support a
right wing agenda. Those who perceived less danger in a series of
images and sounds were more inclined to support liberal policies. The
authors believe their findings may help to explain why voters' minds
are so hard to change.

In the study, conducted in Nebraska, 46 volunteers were first asked
about their political views on issues ranging from foreign aid and the
Iraq war to capital punishment and patriotism. Those with strong
opinions were invited to take part in the second part of the
experiment, which involved recording their physiological responses to
a series of images and sounds. The images included pictures of a
frightened man with a large spider on his face and an open wound with
maggots in it. The subjects were also startled with loud noises on

Conducting experiments

By measuring the electrical conductance of the volunteers' skin and
their blink responses, the scientists were able to work out the degree
of fear they were experiencing - how sensitive they were to the images
and sounds.
"Instead of political opponents thinking the opposite party are being
wilfully bull-headed, you can say 'well ok, they see the world
differently than I do'"
John Hibbing.

They found that subjects who were more easily startled tended to have
political views that would be classified as more right wing, being
more in favour of capital punishment and higher defence spending, but
opposed to abortion rights.

The scientists explained that these political positions were
protective of the volunteers' social groups.

"We focused primarily on things that we call 'protecting the social
unit'," said John Hibbing from the University of Nebraska. "So the
idea is we have this unit - maybe it's the US - and we want to protect
this from outsiders; so we might be opposed to immigration, we might
advocate patriotism, and we like leaders who are strong and clear who
are able to protect us from those outsiders. "We might even be opposed
to pornography or any kind of corrosive element that we see
threatening the social unit. "On the other hand, you have people who
are more supportive of pacifism and who advocate gun control - and
there are lots of areas where people who are less sensitive to threat
would project those kinds of feelings into the political arena."

Different strokes

The researchers say there is no political relevance to their research
- but Dr Hibbing feels it may help explain why it is so hard to change
someone's mind in a political debate. Different people, he said,
started from a different psychological point. "You have people who are
experiencing the world, who are experiencing threat, differently.

"It's just that we have these very different physiological
orientations. We're not sure where they came from, they may be
genetic, they may be something from childhood; we do know, though,
that they run deep because it's a reflex, it's not something you can
change tomorrow, the depth of that may be something of an asset in
figuring out why people are so stubborn in their political beliefs,"
he said. "I even have the hope that this might facilitate
understanding a little bit. Instead of political opponents thinking
the opposite party are being wilfully bull-headed, you can say 'well
ok, they see the world differently than I do'. "People haven't just
thought about things differently, they feel things differently."

Dr.Anna Munster
Senior Lecturer
School of Art History and Theory
College of Fine Arts
P.O. Box 259
NSW 2021
612 9385 0741 (tel)
612 9385 0615(fax)
a.munster at unsw.edu.au

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