The Thinking Eye develops research into    visual art, social identity and the brain.


Colour Rooms

Neuroaesthetic judgements on colour and space

in dementia syndromes (2017/2019)

Research with healthy people has shown that people prefer different colours in different contexts, but little is known about how variations in spatial and material properties might influence how people with dementias experience colour. The Colour Rooms project will explore these questions. A set of miniature monochromatic room models have been built and photographed with a wide angle lens so that they look like life-size spaces. The rooms range from bright, visually-appealing colours to the alleged ugliest colour in the world, a greenish-brown hue. By initially presenting the rooms as photographic images, rather than real life spaces, the role of imagination in the perception of colour in space can be studied. Posterior Cortical Atrophy and typical Alzheimer's Disease for instance, are both known to impair visuospatial orientation early on in the disease process, but the underlying brain mechanisms that cause this in each syndrome are not fully understood yet. There are also suggestions that dementia can cause changes in colour preferences, which this study will focus on in relation to patterns of altered neuronal activity in different types of dementia.

The material experience of colour is also a focal point of this study. In today’s digital world, the majority of contemporary research on colour is done using computers, but they lack the surface and texture of the real world. In the first phase of the study this will be addressed this by presenting the Colour Rooms both as digital images on a computer monitor and as high quality photographic prints to study if people with dementia respond differently to them. In a later phase, experiments with larger scale constructions of colour in space will take place, further exploring the differences between virtual and material experiences from a perspective of embodied cognition.

Both physiological and psychological measurements will be made. Autonomic responses will be captured through tracking the electral dermal activity (EDA), heart rate and pupil dilation fluctations. Perception and attentional interest will be evaluated by analysing eye movements and fixations and affect will be captured by asking participants to rate their emotional responses on a newly developed visual rating scale: the Affect Amplitude Scale. All participants will also have a detailed assessment of general neuropsychological functions. In addition, all patients will have volumetric brain MRI for correlative neuroanatomical analysis with behavioural parameters using voxel-based morphometry (VBM), possibly complemented by fMRI functional connectivity analyses. Behavioural and VBM analyses will be implemented in Stata and SPM12 and will compare participant groups on the parameters of interest while taking potentially confounding demographic, background cognitive and disease severity factors into account.



Thinking Eyes

visual art, the social brain and dementia syndromes (2017/2019)

Using visual artworks from the Wellcome Collection, this study will explore the relationship between what people living with different forms of dementia perceive and how they interpret and communicate meaning. It is known that the value of art is dependent on a complex interaction between cultural context, knowledge and personal preferences. An increasing body of neuroimaging studies suggest 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, not only on an interpersonal level, but on a neurological one as well. Neuroscientific research has also found evidence that dementia has a particularly strong impact on these social brain networks. This research will brings together these two strands of research; investigating what visual art can tell us about the impacts of dementia on the social brain and whether different forms of dementia might have distinct effects on the interaction between neural networks and the social environment.

Participants living with and without dementias will be presented with various forms of visual art and complex imagery. Using computational analysis techniques, data will be collected on the participants’ spoken responses to visual art and their eyes’ response- using an eye tracker to determine where people look and in what order. By doing so, the aim is to help people with dementias express their personal experiences and insights and encourage people to rethink how they perceive art, and the world. One of the methods that will be used is Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), a well-known arts-based facilitated learning method.


Grey Matter / Colourful Minds


As part of the 2-years Created Out of Mind Hub residency at the Wellcome Collection, an artistic reflection will be developed on how visual art relates to our social brains.

Questions that will be addressed:

-To which extend do colour and form have an universal effect on our brains?

-How do context and perceived intent influence the experience of artistic value?

-What can visual art tell us about the way dementia effects the sense of identy and brain functioning?

-How can these findings inform the process of making art?