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.


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.


Taking part in the research


Who can take part?

  • Young female and male adults, neurologically healthy, aged 20 – 30

  • Senior male adults, neurologically healthy, aged 50+

  • Senior female and male adults diagnosed with early stage typical Alzheimer's Disease

  • Senior female and male adults diagnosed with early stage Frontotemporal Dementia / Primary Progressive Aphasia, all variants

  • Senior female and male adults diagnosed with early stage Posterior Cortical Atrophy


How long does it take?

 It takes around 3 hours in total - including several breaks - to take part in both projects. For people living with a dementia the research can be spread over two visits if prefered.


Where will it take place?

The research takes place at the Hub space on the 5th floor of the Wellcome Collection, Kings Cross, London NW1 2BE.

In case you would like to take part on the same day as your partner, family member or friend, this can be easily accommodated.

Your travel and meal expenses will be reimbursed.


How can I take part?

If you would like to express your interest in taking part in this research, or if you have any further questions, please get in touch with researcher Janneke van Leeuwen at