research: art, vision, & the brain

eye-tracking heatmap overlaid on: Lonnie Holley, My Tear Becomes the Child, 1991. Latex on panel, 9.5 x 9.5 x 1 inches (24.1 x 24.1 x 2.5cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art. Gift of Bruce Lineker. T'86, 2008.11.6. © Lonnie Holley.

Bass Connections: Art, Vision, & the Brain

Merging art & neuroscience to tackle questions related to perceptual phenomena.

As a postdoctoral researcher with the Bass Connections: Art, Vision, and the Brain project, my research focuses on patterns of eye-movement evoked by artistic representations of faces. In collaboration with the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke university, we investigate how humans process faces across a variety of laboratory and real-world scenarios.

In addition, I mentor a team of undergraduate scientists as they translate their own questions into empirical studies, which they then design, conduct, and analyze over the course of the academic year.

Bass Connections: art, vision, & the brain

What makes a face a face? Humans are experts at detecting faces, and exhibit consistent patterns of eye-movement when viewing realistic representations of faces. But we often encouter faces that are more ambiguous or abstract -- as in visual art, for instance. What can eye-tracking tell us about face processing in this context?

In a collaborative project between the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences and the Nasher Museum of Art, we studied how the brain specializes in finding faces and how artists have exploited this tendency throughout history. We used eye-tracking measures to study the different patterns of eye-movement evoked by face stimuli across a range of representations, from naturalistic photographs to abstract paintings.

In addition, the team put together an exhibition (on display at the Nasher Museum, 3.26.16-7.24.16) entitled Making Faces. The exhibit showcases original works of art used in the study, as well as a booklet describing the project goals and findings, and interactive web apps. see below

project team

  • Monica Huerta, PhD, Provost's Postdoctoral Associate, Women's Studies
  • Elizabeth Johnson, PhD, Assistant Research Professor, Neurobiology, and Associate Director, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences
  • Eleonora Lad, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Ophthalmology
  • Jeff MacInnes, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Guillermo Sapiro, PhD, Edmund T. Pratt, Jr. School Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Marianne Wardle, PhD, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Academic Programs, Head of Education & Interpretation, Nasher Museum of Art

  • students

  • Kaitlin Henderson, Masters in Liberal Studies ('16)
  • Anuhita Basavaraju, Neuroscience ('18)
  • Peter Cangialosi, Neuroscience and French ('16)
  • Sophie Katz, Neuroscience ('17)
  • Eduardo Salgado, Neuroscisnce and Psychology ('18)
  • Christopher Yoo, Biology ('18)

Example stimuli used in the study.
mouseover to see where subjects spend the most time looking

Romare Bearden, The Family, 1948. Watercolor and gouache on paper, 25 x 19 inches (63.5 x 48.3 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Museum purchase. Art © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, New York. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion

Jeff Sonhouse, Decompositioning, 2010. Mixed media on canvas. 82 x 76 1/4 inches (208.3 x 193.7 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum. Museum purchase, 2010.15.1. © Jeff Sonhouse. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion

Making Faces: museum exhibition

interactive exhibits


facial symmetry

exhibit booklet -