Neurological Perceptions of Art through Augmented and Virtual Realities

Professional Forum

Friday, April 16, 2021: 11:00am - 12:00pm - - Professional Forum

Brendan Ciecko, Cuseum, USA

Ever since Walter Benjamin published his influential essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in 1935, the art and cultural world has been fascinated by what makes art “real.” Benjamin’s core claim is that people can only perceive the “aura” of artworks by standing before the original. Between 1935 and 2019, however, the technology used to recreate and display artworks has evolved in profound ways. With the advancements in AR and VR, it has become possible to experience art through realistic virtual forms. Today, each week offers another news headline of museums experimenting with immersive XR technology.

In light of these developments in AR and VR technology, this session revisits century-old questions about how people experience art through various media and preconceived notions of what constitutes an “authentic” experience. In this session, we will expound upon a ten-month research study conducted in 2019/2020 by a team of neuroscientists supervised by MIT faculty, which examined the emotive responses to original artworks, as compared to their AR and VR equivalents. The study sits at the intersection of tech, neuroscience, arts + culture, and museum studies, and represents the pinnacle of how cross-disciplinary research can deliver fresh insights to the museum sector.

This groundbreaking research supports the claim that AR and VR can provide an equally immersive aesthetic experience on par with that of viewing the authentic, original artwork in person at a museum or gallery. According to the research team, the “current EEG findings would suggest that aesthetic experience is not denigrated by a digital interface representation and, in fact, digital reproductions in the case of augmented reality are shown to improve the magnitude of brain activity compared to the viewing of original works of art.”

The goal of the session is to share discoveries about how visitors respond to art when it is experienced through physical and digital media.

Asher, T., “Unlocking the Neuroscience of Visitor Experience.” Published August 5, 2019. Consulted September 22, 2020.

Bailey, J., “Original Art Or Digital Copy? Can Your Brain Tell The Difference?” Published May 19, 2020. Consulted September 22, 2020.

Cascone, S., “Your Brain May Not Be Able to Distinguish a Digital Reproduction of an Artwork From the Real Thing, a New Study Suggests.” Published June 10, 2020. Consulted September 22, 2020.

Ciecko, B., & Sinha, P., ”Looking at Human Emotions through the Lens of Virtual Art.” MIT Graffenegg Forum 2019. (

Blaszczyk, C., “3Q: The interface between art and neuroscience. Published April 16, 2019. Consulted September 22, 2020.

Noe, A., “Can Neuroscience Help Us Understand Art?” Published February 19, 2016. Consulted September 22, 2020.

Noe, A. “Art and the Limits of Neuroscience.” Published December 4, 2011. Consulted September 22, 2020.

Kemp, M., “Neuroscience vs art: Let's talk across the divide.” Published December 14, 2016. Consulted September 22, 2020.

Landau, M., “What the brain draws from: Art and neuroscience.” Published September 15, 2012. Consulted September 22, 2020.