Research Project

Project NEVART


For several years, neurosciences have been involved in understanding the neurobiological bases of how people perceive art, in order to analyse the neurobiological bases of the artistic production and the aesthetic involvement generated by the vision of an artwork (painting, sculpture, architecture, etc.). This has been done mapping the rhythms and activities of the neurophysiological networks and trying to correlate them to the perception of the work itself as "welcome/unwelcome", "pleasant/unpleasant", etc.

It is now clear that, as with other emotions activated when watching at something, even in the creation of an aesthetic judgment, different areas of the brain are activated and diverse brain rhythms are triggered, all of them recordable through electrodes. From these first analyses, the neurology of art or neuroaesthetics has widespread, as defined by Semir Zeki of the University College of London, that is an experimental approach that tries to define the aesthetic feeling in relation to the neurophysiological impact it has on a subject when viewing an artwork.

The recording techniques of cerebral electrical activity (EEG-Electroencephalography) and the modern acquisitions of neuro-images, in particular through Functional Brain Magnetic Resonance (MRI), allow to investigate what happens in the brains of people who observe artworks.

The chance of successfully making studies in the real field is today fostered by the ever-increasing technological availability of sensors and wireless networks, which reduce the size of the accessories needed for monitoring. This make possible to perform, online and in real time, EEG, EMG (electromyography) analysis and the parallel survey of other physical and physiological parameters, such as the tracking of eye movements (with simultaneous video recording of the visualized) and the electrical conductivity of the skin, closely related to the individual's most instinctive and unconscious reactions and to the involvement of the neurovegetative system.


Detecting an overall framework of people's emotional, physiological, neurophysiological and cognitive response to the vision of artworks, can allow the observation/measurement of his "aesthetic feeling", with a greater number of scale levels (disgust, rejection, indifference, pleasantness, up to the most extreme responses like anxiety, excitement or Stendhal's syndrome).

At the moment there are similar researches, using a field approach, but oriented to a smaller number of neurophysiological parameters and with a very limited number of people being tested; the results available therefore suffer from poor statistical significance.

The objectives of the project

The main aims of the NEVArt project are:

  1. to obtain a neurobiological validation of the experience of aesthetic perception, with particular reference to bodily and mental involvement when facing an artwork, both implicit (using EEG electroencelography, ECG electrocardiography, GSR measurement of the electrical resistance of the skin), and explicit (using a questionnaire); this testing the measurability of a few emotional levels applicable to art (indifference, pleasantness, etc.), also in relation to the inner features of the artwork (movement, subject, colour, etc.);
  2. to quantify the intensity and type of signals recorded as a function of the level of aesthetic perception, comparing the obtained results through multisensory EEG, EMG and eyetracking instruments in real museum conditions (Scenario A) and with high sensitivity EEG 64 channels sensors, EMG and eyetracking for a limited number of paintings and using low environmental stimulation (Scenario B);
  3. to identify the descriptive parameters of the cited experiences, in order to create a significant scale to represent the physical, emotional, cognitive responses on external strains, referable to the art vision.

Description of the study

To be able to carry out a study with these objectives, we decided to adopt an ecological approach, detecting the aforementioned parameters in a real exhibition context (not in the laboratory, unlike almost all the studies developed so far), by monitoring the neurophysiological-emotional parameters on volunteer subjects, during the visit of the museum exhibition. The purpose is to carry out the study in a real scenario, in the same environment in which people usually admire artworks, analysing the reactions of visitors to the exhibition "Painting affections: sacred painting in Ferrara between the '500 and the' 600”, staged at the Estense Castle in Ferrara from 26 January to 26 December 2019.


Non-invasive sensors will be used on selected subjects, with the aim of reaching the maximum statistical variability of the visitors (age, gender, knowledge and cultural level, single or group visit itinerary, etc.). During the painting observation it will be recorded:

  • the galvanic resistance of the skin (neurovegetative involvement of the subject);
  • the eye movements, through eye-tracker, together with the video recording of the visualized, which will allow to identify the specific areas of observation;
  • the contextual cerebral rhythms (EEG) and cardiological (ECG), always through non-invasive instruments.


Two different data collection methods will be used, again with non-invasive tools, as the project wants to investigate also the issue of equipment performance, in particular when collecting the brain rhythms; according to that, sensors have been chosen among those most frequently used in other international contexts and in different research fields (sports performances, virtual reality design, computer games, analysis of patients with neuronal disabilities, etc.). The NEVArt study will therefore provide, from its inception, several important information also on the setting of procedures to be used in the development of this research and other following ones.


Step di avanzamento del progetto


Stipula del Protocollo di Intesa fra CIAS (Università degli Studi di Ferrara), ASP Azienda Servizi alla Persona di Ferrara, Comune di Ferrara (e Musei di Arte Antica e Storico Scientifici), Fondazione Ferrara Arte, Consorzio Futuro in Ricerca


Presentazione del progetto di Alternanza Scuola Lavoro presso il Liceo Ariosto di Ferrara


Presentazione pubblica del restauro del quadro del Bastarolo "La decollazione di S. Giovanni Battista" e del progetto di neuroestetica presso la Sala dei Comuni del Castello Estense di Ferrara


Avvio del  progetto di tirocinio degli studenti del Liceo Ariosto di Ferrara: presentazione del piano di lavoro e dei seminari di approfondimento


Seminario 01: Inquadramento storico-artistico visita alla mostra (Romeo Cristofori, Giovanni Sassu)


Seminario 02: Teoria e tecniche di restauro di un’opera pittorica (Fabio Bevilacqua)


Seminario 03: La redazione di un articolo giornalistico e di un comunicato stampa - Parte 1 (Rita Tagliati)


Approvazione del progetto di indagine clinica da parte del Comitato Etico di Area Vasta Emillia Centro


Seminario 04: Conoscenza e gestione dei rischi per la salute e sicurezza sul lavoro (Maddalena Coccagna)


Seminario 05: Visione commentata dei documentari RAIPLAY "The Sense of Beauty" (Rita Tagliati):

L’evoluzione della bellezza; L’atlante della bellezza; La formula della bellezza


Seminario 06: Visione commentata dei documentari RAIPLAY "The Sense of Beauty" (Rita Tagliati):

L’altro lato della bellezza; La falsa bellezza; La bellezza universale


Seminario 07: L'estetica sperimentale in Fechner e Zeki (Filippo Domenicali) 


Seminario 08: Il senso della bellezza: una questione cruciale dell’estetica d’età moderna - Parte 1 (Andrea Gatti)


Seminario 09: Modalità e tecniche delle riprese televisive/cinematografiche (Giovanni Ganino)


Seminario 10: Il senso della bellezza nella letteratura (Pierluigi Montanari)


Seminario 11: Il senso della bellezza: una questione cruciale dell’estetica d’età moderna - Parte 2 (Andrea Gatti)


Seminario 12: Cenni di anatomia del cervello e di elettrofisiologia (Davide Orlando)


Seminario 13: Cervello che vede, cervello che fa: basi neurofisiologiche della relazione sociale (Maddalena Fabbri Destro, Pietro Avanzini, Giovanni Vecchiato)


Seminario 14: Tecniche cinematografiche di ripresa e montaggio (Filippo Landini)


Seminario 15: La redazione di un articolo giornalistico e di un comunicato stampa - Parte 1 (Rita Tagliati)


Seminario 16: L’olfatto e i profumi (Lisa Galbussera, Moellhausen SpA)


Seminario 17: Organizzazione funzionale del sistema nervoso vegetativo (Valeria Tugnoli)


Seminario 18: L'evoluzione della bellezza: estetica e biologia da Darwin al dibattito contemporaneo (Maria Grazia Portera)


Conferenza stampa di presentazione del progetto NEVArt (vedi rassegna stampa)