Mona Lisa might be smiling or grimacing, depending on how you’re feeling. CFP
Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is one of the most renowned paintings in the art world. Interest in the sixteenth-century portrait, which is probably of Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of merchant Francesco del Giocondo, has always focused on one particular detail: her expression.
People have different opinions about it. Some people think that she is smiling, while others believe she is grimacing.
Could she have been doing the Renaissance equivalent of “smiling for the camera”? That is, putting on a display of happiness that she didn’t really feel? Or is it a sincere smile, and we viewers are reading into it too much?
According to scientists at the University of California, US, if Mona Lisa doesn’t look happy to you, it might be because of your own mental state.
The scientists’ study, published in Psychological Science in April, is based on the theory that the brain is a predictive organ that looks to past experiences to know what to expect from the future.
The researchers showed 43 people several pairs of faces at the same time. One set of faces had neutral expressions, while the other set had expressions that were sometimes happy, sometimes neutral, and sometimes angry.
After people looked at the faces, they were encouraged to describe the emotions on the faces in the neutral images they had seen. Scientists discovered that an image of a neutral expression was more likely to be read as a smile or a grimace when it had been shown alongside a face with a smile or a grimace.
“We are the architects of our own experience. Our brain makes predictions about what it expects to see and uses information from the world to update its expectations,” the researchers explained to Science Daily.
Indeed, our emotions change our perceptions of the world around us, including works of art. “If you see the Mona Lisa after you have just had a screaming fight with your husband, you’re going to see the painting differently,” said Erika Siegel, one of the researchers. “But if you’re having the time of your life at the Louvre, you’re going to see the enigmatic smile.”