Wednesday, October 30, 2019

We See Emotional Content First

Richard Amsel, portrait of Merv
Griffin Mike Douglas for TV Guide
When we see something, we don't perceive it all at once. Because of the way the brain is set up for visual processing, we decode an image in stages. What hits us first is the emotional content of the scene, specifically the color impact and the expression of the face.

According to Eric Kandel, the Director of the Center of Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia University, "We perceive an object's color as much as 100 milliseconds before its form or motion. This difference in timing is analogous to the fact that we perceive the expression of a face before we perceive its identity. In both cases, our brain processes aspects of the image that relate to emotional perception more rapidly than aspects that relate to form, thus setting the emotional tone for the form—the object or the face—confronting us." (Source: The Age of Insight, page 345)

One hundred milliseconds (or 1/10 of a second) may seem like a trivially short amount of time, but if you're watching a video with fast editing, or if you're flipping through a picture book, that emotional response may dominate your experience.

The book that I quoted from explores the neural mechanisms that we use to perceive the world: how the conscious and unconscious parts of our brains interact in seeing, and how visual information is decoded in stages. He explains how there are separate neural pathways for processing information about different visual properties, such as motion, depth, color, and shape. The book pairs that scientific analysis with an art historian's view of the revolution in painting that was happening in Vienna starting in 1900.

The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present


Glenn Tait said...

I think that’s Mike Douglas.

Pierre Fontaine said...

I believe Glenn Tait is correct and the portrait is of Mike Douglas. It's an amazing portrait no matter who it really is.

I was at a John Shearer photography exhibit at the Neuberger Museum where many incredible photos from the 1960s were on display. One photograph was mislabeled though. It was clearly a photograph of the soul group The 5th Dimension but was labeled incorrectly with another band's name. I felt obligated to tell the museum about the mistake but I'm thinking the error must have originated with whoever was representing Shearer's work, not with someone on the museum staff.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Glenn and Pierre, it's fixed now.

Rich said...

Amazing portrait embedded in a semi-abstract environment.
Top of hair and teeth are very white, though - artistic licence granted;-)

Unknown said...

I am wondering if when you are planning a painting do you consciously decide what emotional content it should convey then select your approach accordingly or is it sort of an incidental effect of your response to the subject.

Susan Krzywicki said...

That thing about perceiving an expression before establishing identity - could be related to a survival mechanism.

Color before form or motion - what would this suggest? We want to know if we are in the open or in an enclosed space?? Nighttime or daytime???