The Thinking Eye develops research at the intersection of visual art and the social brain.


Seeing the Bigger Picture:

Visual Art, the Social Brain and Dementia



How people value art is dependent on a complex interaction between cultural context, knowledge and personal preferences.                

An increasing body of neuroimaging studies suggests that engaging with visual art activates many of the same brain networks that are involved in complex social behaviour. Therefore, the way we relate to art may reflect our social identity, on both an interpersonal and a neurological level.

Neuroscientific research has also found evidence that dementia syndromes have a particularly strong impact on these social brain networks.    

Founder of The Thinking Eye, Janneke van Leeuwen, is currently working on her PhD research that aims to bring together these two strands of research; she is investigating the dynamics of visual art and colour experiences in relation to the social brain and whether different forms of dementia might have distinct effects on how the social brain networks process visual art and colour.  

The research has been developed as part of the Created Out of Mind Hub residency at the Wellcome Collection in London and is governed 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 next two sections briefly outline the two eye tracking research projects ‘Thinking Eyes’ and ‘Colour Rooms’, which are part of the Seeing the Bigger Picture study.

In the third section you will find information about taking part in this research.


Thinking Eyes

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


Colour Rooms

Research with healthy people has shown that people prefer different colours in different contexts, but little is known about how space and material might influence how people with different forms of dementia experience colour. The Colour Rooms project aims to address these questions. There are also suggestions that dementia can cause changes in colour preferences, which this study focuses on in relation to the social brain networks in different types of dementia. Participants are presented with colours in different spatial contexts and materials, while both physiological and psychological responses are measured.


Taking part in the research


Who can take part?

  • Young adults, neurologically healthy, aged 20 – 30
  • Senior adults, neurologically healthy, aged 50+
  • Senior adults diagnosed with early stage typical Alzheimer's Disease
  • Senior adults diagnosed with early stage Frontotemporal Dementia / Progressive Primary Aphasia, all variants
  • Senior adults diagnosed with early stage Posterior Cortical Atrophy


How long does it take?

The Thinking Eyes and Colour Rooms eye tracking experiments each take about an hour. The additional background and cognition measurements take about 30-45 minutes.   It takes around 3 hours in total - including several breaks - to take part in both projects.


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 expenses will be reimbursed and meals will be provided.



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 complete the form below:

Name *
Research Participation