Dara Djavan Khoshdel

I want to find out whether it is possible to predict the value of a painting (relative to other similar paintings) by measuring the galvanic skin response, or micro-sweating, of ordinary people when they view it. It would be particularly interesting to find out if abstract art which affects our limbic system, the emotional part of the brain, is the same art which sells well.

How will you research this?

To eliminate any interfering factors such as hype over an artist which might skew the results, I would have to find a group of paintings, all by the same artist, which were all sold at the same auction. Then I would sit the subjects in front of a screen, with their hands connected up to the pshychogalvanometer (a device which measures electrical resistance of the skin), display the paintings one at a time and measure the response. I would find an average reading for each artwork and make a league table which I would then compare with the sale prices.

Background

Dara wants to find out if people react more strongly to expensive artworks, even when they don't know how much they cost beforehand.

He'll be determining people's emotional reaction by measuring 'microsweating', how much they sweat when they look at each painting. The theory is that we sweat a tiny amount when we see something that arouses our senses.

Gathering data

Twelve volunteers took part in the experiment which was held at Modern Art Oxford. They viewed a dozen pictures featured in their Graham Sutherland exhibition, and their emotional response to each work was measured and gathered using a galvanometer.

This measures the electrical resistance of the skin, which is lowered slightly when we sweat. The team are now analysing these results to present them at Cheltenham Science Festival.

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Scientific mentors

  • Martin Kemp, Emeritus Prof of the History of Art, University of Oxford
  • Speciality: science and art

  • Andrew Parker, Prof of Physiology, University of Oxford
  • Speciality: vision and cognition

 

Results

Dara will present his results at the 'So You Want to Be a Scientist?' finals, which are being held at Cheltenham Science Festival on 16 June 2012.

Amateur Scientist Research Diaries