Get Over That Old School “Mona Lisa” Mystery- Study Says She’s Happy. Probably

Khryss | Published 2017-03-17 20:10
Well, well, well, who wouldn’t have known the famous “Mona Lisa”? Painted by Leonardo da Vinci sometime between 1503 and 1507, the undeniable beauty of the model has been known for its “emotional ambiguity” according to the English essayist Walter Pater. He said, "Mona Lisa" first reveals a "promise of an unbounded tenderness," but that expression can change to a "sinister menace" when the viewer's eyes linger on her. So, a small study created different digital tweaks of the painting with Mona Lisa’s mouth either being more upturned or downturned. And together with its original, they asked 12 people whether she’s happy or sad in the pictures and to rate the confidence of their answers. Results showed that all of the "positive" images (8 upturned revisions to be exact), including the original Mona Lisa, were perceived as "happy" almost 100 percent of the time. Surprisingly, when showed the sad range of images (7 downturned revisions), people also tended to perceive those as "sad" except the original painting. "We were very surprised to find out that the original 'Mona Lisa' is almost always seen as being happy," study senior researcher Jürgen Kornmeier of the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health in Freiburg, Germany, said in a statement. "That calls the common opinion among art historians into question."

Some of Mona Lisa's happy and sad variants.

They also found that participants were able to rate the happy faces faster and more accurately than the sad faces. They said that perhaps it has something to do with how our brain responds: "It appears as if our brain is biased to positive facial expressions," study's lead researcher, Emanuela Liaci, said. "The data show that our perception, for instance, of whether something is sad or happy, is not absolute but adapts to the environment with astonishing speed," Kornmeier said. With these new findings, researchers plan to continue such perception research a little further by utilizing not just the general public but people who have autism or psychological disorders as well. "Our senses have only access to a limited part of the information from our environment, for instance, because an object is partially hidden or poorly illuminated," Kornmeier said. "The brain then needs to use this restricted and often ambiguous sensory information to construct an image of the world that comes as close to reality as possible."
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