Visual ambiguity priming promotes uniqueness in art-viewing responses



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Generally speaking, we navigate most of our daily lives through a mode of visual perception that is externally directed with a bias towards object recognition. This orientation allows for the formation of early predictions within the brain’s visual processing system which leads to a narrowing focus of both semantic-associative processes as well as their resulting potential inferences that we derive from what we encounter visually. This perceptual approach is reinforced continuously and cultivated across our lifespans because of its usefulness during our daily lives to help us correctly identify what we are looking at in an automatic and seemingly effortless manner. The problem with this mode of visual perception is that it is counterproductive during an aesthetic experience. Visual art—unlike similar experiences such as entertainment, decoration, or propaganda—is not intended to provide a single, correct interpretation. Nonetheless, most of us unknowingly apply our externally directed attention and its subsequent narrowing associative processes when encountering such aesthetic objects that were initially intended to provide us with the opportunity to explore our more imaginative faculties. Such novice art viewers consistently access only the most literal, superficial interpretations of an artwork’s semantic features—its knowable content—because they lack the experience of actively calling upon their more imaginative faculties when faced with the impenetrable ambiguity of an artwork’s stylistic features. With all this in mind, two studies were conducted using an innovative perceptual intervention capable of artificially shifting a utilitarian perceptual orientation towards a more aesthetically conducive, exploratory approach. The resulting short-lived effect promoted deeper, more imaginative engagements for art viewers across the spectrum of art-specific expertise.



Creativity, Art-viewing, Imagination, Divergent thinking, Improving creative thinking, Aesthetics, Aesthetic appreciation, Empirical aesthetics, Detachment, Near associate, Remote associate, Semantic memory, Semantic information, Blurring, Blur, Reduced visual clarity