SSVEP responses predict visual discomfort judgements

O'Hare, L. ORCID: 0000-0003-0331-3646, Hird, E. and Whybrow, M., 2021. SSVEP responses predict visual discomfort judgements. European Journal of Neuroscience. ISSN 0953-816X

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It has been suggested that aesthetically pleasing stimuli are processed efficiently by the visual system, whereas uncomfortable stimuli are processed inefficiently. This study consists of a series of three experiments investigating this idea using a range of images of abstract artworks, photographs of natural scenes, and computer-generated stimuli previously shown to be uncomfortable. Subjective judgements, and neural correlates were measured using EEG (steady-state visual evoked potentials, SSVEPs). In addition, global image statistics (contrast, Fourier amplitude spectral slope and fractal dimension) were taken into account. When effects of physical image contrast were controlled, fractal dimension predicted discomfort judgements, suggesting the SSVEP response is more likely to be influenced by distribution of edges than the spectral slope. Importantly, when effects of physical contrast and fractal dimension were accounted for using linear mixed effects modelling, SSVEP responses predicted subjective judgements of images. Specifically, when stimuli were not matched for perceived contrast, there was a positive relationship between SSVEP responses and how pleasing a stimulus was judged to be, and conversely a negative relationship between discomfort and SSVEP response. This is significant as it shows that the neural responses in early visual areas contribute to the subjective (un)pleasantness of images, although the results of this study do not provide clear support for the theory of efficient coding as the cause of perceived pleasantness or discomfort of images, and so other explanations need to be considered.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: European Journal of Neuroscience
Creators: O'Hare, L., Hird, E. and Whybrow, M.
Publisher: Wiley
Date: 18 October 2021
ISSN: 0953-816X
Rights: This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: O'Hare, L., Hird, E., & Whybrow, M. (2021). SSVEP responses predict visual discomfort judgements. European Journal of Neuroscience, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions. This article may not be enhanced, enriched or otherwise transformed into a derivative work, without express permission from Wiley or by statutory rights under applicable legislation. Copyright notices must not be removed, obscured or modified. The article must be linked to Wiley’s version of record on Wiley Online Library and any embedding, framing or otherwise making available the article or pages thereof by third parties from platforms, services and websites other than Wiley Online Library must be prohibited.
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Record created by: Laura Ward
Date Added: 14 Oct 2021 13:22
Last Modified: 18 Oct 2022 03:00
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