BraIn Plasticity & behavior changes



Research objectives



Our group deals with Neuroaesthetics, investigating the relationship between aesthetic experience and brain plasticity processes.

More specifically, we have recently proposed a model of aesthetic appreciation which describes a relationship between attention, motor inhibition and implicit learning (Sarasso et al. 2020 Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews). The proposed model moves from the theoretical framework of predictive coding (PC) and the free energy principle (FEP), which considers people actively involved in the process of predicting environmental information, continuously engaged in comparing the incoming information with their own representations/predictions in memory.

By this means, we can optimally interact with the environment and we can also form or update memories which we will store and compare afterwards (den Ouden, Kok, & de Lange, 2012; Krawczyk et al., 2017). Correct prediction allows us not to spend too many resources on predictable stimuli, allocating more resources to new and more informative ones (Feldman & Friston, 2010; Friston, 2010; Friston et al., 2006; Baldi & Itti, 2010; Itti & Baldi, 2009). Wrong predictions instead generate a state of uncertainty or surprise (i.e prediction error), which our nervous system tries to repair by acting on reality, thereby reducing the mismatch between expected (desired) and current sensory states, or by updating our representations to account new information. Therefore, both action and perception subserve the same goal: reducing sensory uncertainty (prediction errors in the short term).

Our experimental results showed that aesthetic appreciation improves the information processing of the stimuli which violate our expectations; more specifically, during aesthetic experiences, motor inhibition allows our nervous system to temporarily block motor routines and parallelly to allocate more resources to informationally profitable stimuli in order to update our representations. Finally, the aesthetic experience, being intrinsically rewarding, reinforces the learning process itself.

Our studies move from this empirical evidence, delving into the fascinating field of aesthetics in order to confirm and update our model. 

MMNWe used the EEG to record electrophysiological index of Implicit learning. We used different visual and auditory stimuli in order to modulate the aesthetic appreciation of the participant. Our aim is to demonstrate that we learn better for more appreciated stimuli. Furthermore we used a Bayesian surprise technique in order to correlate the performance in the implicit learning task and the information acquisition.

Music. We also studied the role of the aesthetic experience originated from Music and the impact on the Brain plasticity processes. 


Roving and Gonogo. We studied the neural component of the aesthetic experience with innovative neuroimaging technique and several experimental paradigm. More specifically we used the EEG to record the biomarkers of the attentional enhancement, motor inhibition and reward system. For example we recorded the ERP component of the stimuli process in the roving paradigm and in a Go no go task by presenting aesthetic valued stimuli.


Interoceptive awareness Finally, we recently start to use the ECG to record the Heartbeat rate in a different aesthetical condition in order to explore the interoceptive response during the aesthetic experience.

Sarasso, P., Perna, P., Barbieri, P., Neppi-Modona, M., Sacco, K., & Ronga, I. (2021). Memorisation and implicit perceptual learning are enhanced for preferred musical intervals and chords. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 1-15.

Sarasso, P., Ronga, I., Neppi-Modona, M., & Sacco, K. (2021). The role of musical aesthetic emotions in social adaptation to the Covid-19 pandemic. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 445.

Sarasso, P., Neppi-Modona, M., Sacco, K., & Ronga, I. (2020). “Stopping for knowledge”: The sense of beauty in the perception-action cycle. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 

Sarasso, P., Ronga, I., Kobau, P., Bosso, T., Artusio, I., Ricci, R., & Neppi-Modona, M. (2020). Beauty in mind: Aesthetic appreciation correlates with perceptual facilitation and attentional amplification. Neuropsychologia, 136, 107282. 

Sarasso, P., Ronga, I., Pistis, A., Forte, E., Garbarini, F., Ricci, R., & Neppi-Modona, M. (2019). Aesthetic appreciation of musical intervals enhances behavioural and neurophysiological indexes of attentional engagement and motor inhibition. Scientific reports, 9(1), 1-14.