Spatial artistic displays of emotional valence

Congratulations to Dr. Kenneth Heilman on the publication of “Spatial artistic displays of emotional valence,” in the April edition of Laterality Asymmetries of Brain, Behaviour, and Cognition.

Background: While right-left hemispheric valence dichotomies have been demosntrated in various lesion stidues, it not entirely known if these dichotomies are portrayed in art.

Methods: We examined 192 paintings to learn if there is an association between paintings that portray happy-positive or sad-negative scenes and the agent looking to the right or left side relative to their head’s midsagittal plane.

Results: There were 38 paintings with a positive valence and 32 with a negative valence in which the eyes were turned rightward or leftward. Of 38 positive valence paintings, 28 had the agent looking rightward, and 10 looking leftward. Of 32 negative valence paintings, 15 had the agent looking rightward and 17 leftward.

Discussion: Hemisphere activation is associated with contralateral deviation of the eyes. Whereas the right hemisphere mediates negative emotions allocates spatial attention to both left and right hemispace, the left hemisphere primarily allocates attention to the right. Since the left hemisphere appears to mediate positive emotions and the right hemisphere negative emotions, results from this study are consistent with hemispheric emotional valence attentional hypotheses. However, the relationship between artist knowledge about gaze and the utilization of gaze direction to portray emotional experiences is not known.