Seeing the Bigger Picture:

Visual Art, the Social Brain and Dementia



Visual art and colour experiences are connected to people's sense of self and the brain networks that regulate complex social behaviour. The Thinking Eye's founder Janneke van Leeuwen's research investigates the role of visual imagination in the social brain and how different forms of dementia might impact on these dynamics.

The research has been developed as part of the Created Out of Mind Hub residency at the Wellcome Collection in London and is lead by the Dementia Research Centre of the UCL Institute of Neurology in London, in collaboration with the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, an independent university of applied sciences in Art Design based in Amsterdam.

The data collection phase was completed in September 2018 and the results are currently being analysed. To stay informed about the research outcomes and future directions, you can either sign-up to the email list by filling out the form at the top of this page, or send an email to Janneke van Leeuwen at


Thinking Eyes

Through visual art, the Thinking Eyes project aims to understand the relationship between perception, identity and communication in people living with and without different dementias. Participants are presented with various forms of visual art and complex imagery. An eye tracker records where people look and in what order, and using the Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) method they are invited to give their subjective evaluation of the visual art and images. By means of a special wristband participants' electrodermal and heartrate responses to the visual artworks are also captured.


Colour Rooms

How colours affect our thoughts, feelings and the way we interact with our environment has been studied extensively from artistic, scientific and commercial perspectives. However, since colours are rarely experienced completely isolated a spatial context, it remains a challenge to determine how their perceptual qualities relate to subjective experiences. The Colour Rooms project focuses on the dynamic between perceptual (bottom-up) and constructive (top-down) social brain networks in people’s emotional and physiological responses to colours in relation to hue, light, material and space.