What we do
Our research involves a wide range of topics and approaches. Current projects focus on the built environment and wellness, beauty and morality, and engagement with art.
The built environment and wellness
Most people in the developed world spend more than 90% of their time in built environments. We are investigating how these environments affect our sense of well-being and can either promote or interfere with human flourishing.
What are the specific features of interior and exterior spaces that promote wellness? We investigate how various design features, such as ceiling height or wall curvature, can determine our experiences along certain psychological dimensions — coherence, fascination, and hominess.
Images from the Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics
Immersive virtual reality presents an exciting new opportunty to carry out neuroaesthetics research in a precisely configured model environment. We measure how slight adjustments to spatial features can result in striking differences for an individual's experience in that space.
Beauty and morality
Our brains respond automatically to beauty, and these automatic responses have downstream consequences in our attitudes, biases, and behavior.
Original image from the Chicago Face Database
Our research shows that people with facial anomalies, such as scars or paralysis, are viewed as having worse social traits. These problematic stereotypes are associated with implicit biases and neural responses suggestive of diminished empathy and possibly, dehumanization.
Original images from the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity
We also study how individuals are judged based on other physical features such as body weight. We examine whether these sorts of harmful biases are malleable and context dependent — for instance, when photographs are modified to look like works of art.
Engagement with art
Humans have a decorative impulse, as evidenced by the aesthetic care taken in crafting objects and artifacts throughout human history. We are interested in understanding the nature of engagement with the arts — the paradox that seemingly non-utilitarian features of objects have such a persistent grip on us.
Portrait of Louise-Antoinette Feuardent by Jean-François Millet, from the J. Paul Getty Museum online collection
There are many ways to measure the physical properties of an image. One approach is to study patterns in low level features, such as in the distribution of visual edges in a work of art. Based on the strength and orientation of edges, we can quantify properties such as visual complexity and measure the extent to which these properties affect our aesthetic preferences.
No. 22 by Jackson Pollock and Composition with Blue and Yellow by Piet Mondrian, from the Philadelphia Museum of Art online collection
Individuals perceive a varying quality of motion in abstract work by artists like Jackson Pollock and Piet Mondrian. We examine how this motion affects aesthetic preferences. We're also exploring whether preferences for motion are affected in individuals with Parkinson’s disease, who may have difficulty forming representations of action and movement.
Images from the Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics
There is enormous variety in the universe of visual art. A powerful method to bring order to this chaos is network analysis. Networks help us cluster images that have similar physical properties or that have been described using similar language. These groupings help us reveal underlying patterns in how we respond to art and what drives our appreciation for beauty.
Hartung, F., Jamrozik, A., Rosen, M. E., Aguirre, G., Sarwer, D. B., & Chatterjee, A. (2019). Behavioural and neural responses to facial disfigurement. Scientific Reports, 9, 8021. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-44408-8
Jamrozik, A., Oraa Ali, M., Sarwer, D. B., & Chatterjee, A. (2019). More than skin deep: Judgments of individuals with facial disfigurement. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 13(1), 117-129. doi: 10.1037/aca0000147
Vartanian, O., Navarrete, G., Chatterjee, A., Fich, L. B., Leder, H., Modroño, C., Rostrup, N., Skov, M., Corradi, G., & Nadal, M. (2019). Preference for curvilinear contour in interior architectural spaces: Evidence from experts and nonexperts. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 13(1), 110-116. doi: 10.1037/aca0000150
Hayn-Leichsenring, G. U., & Chatterjee, A. (2018). Colliding terminological systems—Immanuel Kant and contemporary empirical aesthetics. Empirical Studies of the Arts. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/0276237418818635
Belfi, A. M., Vessel, E. A., Brielmann, A., Isik, A. I., Chatterjee, A., Leder, H., Pelli, D. G., & Starr, G. G. (2018). Dynamics of aesthetic experience are reflected in the default-mode network. NeuroImage. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.12.017
Faust, N. T., Chatterjee, A., & Christopoulos, G. I. (2018). The eﬀect of unrelated social exchanges on facial attractiveness judgments. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 79, 290-300. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2018.08.010
Chatterjee, A. (2018). Beauty matters in ways we know and in ways we don’t. In D. J. Linden (Ed.), Think tank: Forty neuroscientists explore the bilogical roots of human experience (pp. 238-244). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Meghani, S. H., Peterson, C., Kaiser, D. H., Rhodes, J., Rao, H., Chittams, J., & Chatterjee, A. (2018). A pilot study of a mindfullness-based art therapy intervention in outpatients with cancer. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, 35(9), 1195-1200. doi: 10.1177/1049909118760304
Chatterjee, A. (2017). Orange is the new aesthetic [Commentary on the journal article The Distancing-Embracing model of the enjoyment of negative emotions in art reception, by W. Menninghaus, V. Wagner, J. Hanich, E. Wassiliwizky, T. Jacobsen, & S. Koelsch]. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 40(355), 1-2. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X17001637
Coburn, A., Vartanian, O., & Chatterjee, A. (2017). Buildings, beauty, and the brain: A neuroscience of architectual experience. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 29(9), 1521-1531. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_01146
Chatterjee, A. (2017). A cognitive aesthetics of literature and the arts [Review of the book Beauty and sublimity, by P. C. Hogan]. Cognitive Semiotics, 10(1), 41-47. doi: 10.1515/cogsem-2017-0003
Pearce, M. T., Zaidel, D. W., Vartanian, O., Skov, M., Leder, H., Chatterjee, A., & Nadal, M. (2015). Neuroaesthetics: The cognitive neuroscience of aesthetic experience. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 11(2), 265-279. doi: 10.1177/1745691615621274
Pegors, T. K., Kable, J. W., Chatterjee, A., & Epstein, R. A. (2015). Common and unique representations in pFC for face and place attractiveness. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 27(5), 959-973. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00777
Vartanian, O., Navarrete, G., Chatterjee, A., Fich, L. B., Gonzalez-Mora, J. L., Leder, H., Modroño, C., Nadal, M., Rostrup, N., & Skov, M. (2015). Architectural design and the brain: Effects of ceiling height and perceived enclosure on beauty judgments and approach-avoidance decisions. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 41, 10-18. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2014.11.006
Graham, D., Schwarz, B., Chatterjee, A., Kircher, T., & Straube, B. (2014). Preference for luminance histogram regularities in natural scenes. Vision Research, 120, 11-21. doi: 10.1016/j.visres.2015.03.018
Chancellor, B., Duncan, A., & Chatterjee, A. (2014). Art therapy for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 34, 1-11. doi: 10.3233/JAD-131295
Göksun, T., Kranjec, A., Chatterjee, A. (2014). The development of visual art preferences. In A. Kozbelt (Ed.), Proceedings of the twenty-third biennial congress of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics (pp. 223-225). New York, NY: International Association of Empirical Aesthetics.
Vartanian, O., Navarrete, G., Chatterjee, A., Fich, L. B., Leder, H., Modroño, C., Nadal, M., Rostrup, N., & Skov, M. (2013). Impact of contour on aesthetic judgments and approach-avoidance decisions in architecture. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(2), 1-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1301227110
van Buren, B., Bromberger, B., Potts, D., Miller, B., & Chatterjee A. (2013). Changes in painting styles of two artists with Alzheimer’s disease. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 7(1), 89-94. doi: 10.1037/a0029332
Chatterjee A. (2012). Neuroaesthetics: Growing pains of a new discipline. In A. P. Shimamura & S. E. Palmer (Eds.), Aesthetic science: Connecting minds, brains, and experience (pp. 219-317). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Chatterjee A. (2011). Where there be dragons: Finding the edges of neuroaesthetics. Aesthetics, 31(2), 4-6.
Chatterjee, A., Bromberger, B., Smith, W., Sternschein, R., & Widick, P. (2011). Artistic production following brain damage: A study of three artists. Leonardo, 44(5), 405-410. doi: 10.1162/LEON_a_00240
Chatterjee, A., Widick, P., Sternschein, R., Smith, W. B., & Bromberger, B. (2010). The assessment of art attributes. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 28(2), 207-222. doi: 10.2190/EM.28.2.f
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Chatterjee, A., Thomas, A., Smith, S. E., & Aguirre, G. K. (2008). The neural response to facial attractiveness. Neuropsychology, 23(2), 135-143. doi: 10.1037/a0014430
Chatterjee, A., Hamilton, R. H., & Amorapanth, P. X. (2006). Art produced by a patient with Parkinson’s disease. Behavioural Neurology, 17(2), 105-108. doi: 10.1155/2006/901832
Wilson A., & Chatterjee A. (2005). The assessment of preference for balance: Introducing a new test. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 23(2), 165-180. doi: 10.2190/EM.28.2.f
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