Beautiful Mind

Undergraduate Rebecca Sternschein traces the brain circuitry of art appreciation.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

By Loraine Terrell

Humans had been making art long before they started recording the history of the race. Rebecca Sternschein, C’08, a major in the Biological Basis of Behavior (BBB) with a minor in the history of art, wondered about the “biological relevance” of humans’ age-old connection to making and looking at art. Over her senior year, she devised and carried out a program of innovative research to map out where in the brain’s network of neurons aesthetic perception happens. “We found that there are specific areas of the brain that are important for art perception,” she explains. “These areas are different for the various components of art perception and tend to relate to whether the perceptual component is a formal or conceptual aspect.” 

“Rebecca’s study is one of the first in this new field of neuroaesthetics,” notes Anjan Chatterjee, M.D., an assistant professor in Penn Med’s neurology department and Sternschein’s advisor for the research project. “As a scientist, Rebecca has a wonderful curiosity combined with conscientiousness and commitment that is necessary to be successful.”

Next year Sternschein will go to London’s Courtauld Institute of Art to study for a master’s in art history. She is also applying to medical schools for when she returns to the States.

This video features Sternschein discussing her research project at the 14th annual BBB Student Research Symposium poster fair.