This video says about itself:
30 September 2016
Read the scientific paper at this link.
Many of us appreciate art, but no-one really knows how or why we do so. Researchers in the field of empirical aesthetics attempt to answer such questions. The way people look at paintings is often studied by letting participants look at images on a computer screen in a laboratory setting, during which their gaze is tracked using a stationary, bulky, eye tracker. Obviously this is not a ‘natural setting’ in which people normally view paintings or appreciate art, so the question remains how well viewing behaviour in such laboratory settings approaches that of real life.
That’s why a group of researchers from the Department of Experimental and Applied psychology of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam decided to use a very different and novel approach. Francesco Walker, assisted by Berno Bucker, Daniel Schreij, Nicola Anderson, and supervised by prof. Jan Theeuwes, used a mobile eye-tracker to track the gaze of children and adults as they viewed actual paintings on display at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, one of the world’s most famous museums.
The main topic of study was how stimulus-driven and goal-driven processes work together in guiding our attention or gaze through a painting, and if there is a difference between children and adults in how this happens. Stimulus-driven processes direct our attention to certain locations in a painting that are very conspicuous, such as spots that are brighter than their surroundings or objects with a color that stands out. On the other hand, goal-driven processes steers our attention toward locations in the painting that are aligned with our goals, intentions or desires.
In the first phase of the study, we asked our participants to view a selected set of five Van Gogh paintings. In the second phase, we gave them a briefing with some specific back story of each painting, after which asked them to view the paintings again. The differences between their eye movements in the two phases showed that bottom-up cues had a greater influence on the children than the adults and that the effects of the briefing were stronger and longer-lasting in the adults.
The Van Gogh Museum Eye-tracking Project demonstrates the feasibility of studies in museum settings, and brings collaborations between museum and universities to a whole new level: the educational staff of the VGM did not only give us the opportunity to perform our study in the museum – they contributed actively in every phase of the study. We believe that in empirical aesthetics, this kind of active collaboration between scientific and cultural institutions is not only possible, but essential, and hope that our pioneering work will lead to future collaborations with the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam, and with other high profile institutions.
From Science News:
Here’s how a child sees a Van Gogh painting
by Laura Sanders
8:00am, July 2, 2017
One of the best things about having young children is that they give you a new way to see the world — a total cliché, yes, but true. Rainbows in water fountains are mesmerizing. Roly-poly bugs are worth stopping for. Bright blouses on strangers are remarked on, loudly. It’s occasionally embarrassing but always fun to see how this gorgeous world captivates children.
An inventive new study attempted to get inside the minds of children as they looked at works of art, specifically paintings hanging in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Francesco Walker, a cognitive psychologist who conducted the study while at VU University Amsterdam, and colleagues equipped nine children and 12 adults with eye-tracking headsets as they observed five paintings. The children were ages 11 and 12. Participants saw each painting twice, before and after hearing a description of the art.
When the children first viewed a Van Gogh painting, they focused on bold, bright colors and attention-grabbing objects: A striped house, vivid roses, dark trees painted against a light skyline.
But after they heard a little background information about the paintings, their gazes shifted. For instance, after seeing the serene “Landscape at Twilight” for the first time, the children were told that some of the hay contained green flecks of paint from a different painting. During their second look at the painting, the children spent more time looking at the hay.
The adults, in contrast, weren’t as drawn to the bright colors and attention-grabbing objects on their first (or second) looks. They focused more on other areas of the paintings.
The results, published June 21 in PLOS ONE, show that when children are given context about a painting they shift what they focus on while viewing it.
That switch in gaze represents an interesting switch in thinking, the researchers believe. The first type of viewing relies on “bottom-up” attention, in which the eye is drawn to whatever visually pops out. Walker describes this sort of looking as something involuntary, driven by the physical properties of an object or scene. The second sort of attention, called “top-down,” is more purposeful. “Top-down attentional control is driven voluntarily, by factors that are internal to the observer,” Walker says.
Looking for your friend in a crowd, holding a picture of her in mind, requires intentional searching. That’s a top-down task. But if you’re suddenly captivated by the sight of a monkey playing a tiny accordion, that would be a bottom-up diversion. Studies like this one on children and adults suggest that with age, “top-down processes become more and more important, while bottom-up attention loses strength,” Walker says.
Similar data would be much harder to pull from younger, wigglier children. I showed one of the paintings used in the study — Van Gogh’s “Tree Roots,” an abstract jumble of blue and brown and green — to my 4-year-old.
In the absence of eye-tracking technology, I just asked my daughter what she saw. She started by naming colors: “Blue, green, brown.” After she ran through all of the hues, I asked if she saw anything else. She paused, considering the image carefully. “Is it dinosaurs?” she asked. I told her that it’s a painting of tangled, blue tree roots in the ground. “But that green part looks like a Tyrannosaurus,” she told me. As her little finger gestured toward my computer screen, I saw what she meant: A green T. Rex head, rising majestically from the roots.