Event Recap: Impact-Based Thinking for Neuroaesthetics

Last month we gathered 16 dynamic scientists, artists and scientists/artists for the first International Arts + Mind Lab Impact-Based Thinking Working Group meeting. For those of you who were able to join us, thank you for a thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion! For those who weren’t, we are excited to share what we discussed and hear your feedback.

The purpose of our meeting was to begin to tackle the big questions of the value the IAM Lab can bring in accelerating the field of neuroaesthetics and the approaches we should consider for doing so. In part, we discussed the relative merits of five research models (Action Research, Theory of Change, Design Thinking, Public Health and Science of Learning) for IAM Lab’s consideration. Primarily, we asked big questions, debated candidly and eagerly and learned from the rich cross-disciplinary discourse. Questions included:

What is neuroaesthetics? What exactly will the IAM Lab do? We discussed and debated what neuroaesthetics means and how IAM Lab would think about prioritizing its work in research, convening and education/outreach. While we don’t have all the answers, first steps include a white paper to define the interdisciplinary approach and proof-of-concept work from partners at Johns Hopkins in rehabilitation and autism.

Is this arts research, or is there really a “neuro” in neuroaesthetics? We had rich discussion about the different ways to approach impact-based thinking in this field. We determined needs for basic science; thinking beyond fMRI to other neurophysiological measures; and cognitive neuroscience as an important mediator in this work.

Do we really need to select just one model for research? Can’t there be many? We agreed that the nature of research questions will influence which model is right. Still, there may be core components that are essential to the IAM Lab’s unique approach to impact-based thinking. Having a model is important because it creates a common language and basis for comparison across studies while aiding in accelerating a field.

Key Takeaways:

· We value an exploratory approach within the frame of impact-based thinking, perhaps best defined as a kind of structured flexibility. One group noted the power of “play” models and the many “accidental” scientific discoveries that have been made because of this approach. We need to go in with an appreciation for the unexpected and openness to the idea that we don’t already know the answer.

· Before we start to solve a problem, we really need to be thinking about all the characteristics endemic to the problem (social, cultural, geographic) — the molecular all the way to societal. Then, we need to convene the right cross-disciplinary team of experts, including members of the communities affected by the problem. These questions are too complex to be addressed by anyone working in one discipline.

· Because we are focused on impact, our approach needs to go beyond traditional efforts at dissemination. As a pre-condition, we should seek a practitioner partner with the ability to scale the intervention and receive training and technical assistance for ongoing implementation and sustainability of the work. We should also include key dissemination partners from the beginning.

· This approach may require a trained and consistent team of facilitators or PIs. IAM Lab would benefit from a team of neuroaesthetics researchers and practitioners who understand the process and are able to shepherd various partners through the interdisciplinary approach.

As a next step, IAM Lab will put together a straw man model for impact-based thinking based on this conversation. We know we have just scratched the surface of input from our diverse community, so please add your voice on Facebook, Twitter or by subscribing to our mailing list.

We are excited to be embarking on this journey with you!