Edward A. Vessel

Eugene Surowitz Assistant Professor


Main Affiliation


Additional Departments/Affiliated Programs

Areas of Expertise/Research

  • Brain Imaging
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Computational Neuroscience
  • Creativity
  • Empirical Aesthetics
  • Vision
  • neuroaesthetics





Edward A. Vessel

Biography & Education

Dr. Vessel is a cognitive and computational neuroscientist and Assistant Professor of Psychology at the City College of New York. His research group, the Visual Neuroaesthetics (VisNA) Lab, uses behavioral and brain imaging techniques to study the psychological and neural basis of aesthetic experiences, creative insight and curiosity.

He received his bachelor’s from Johns Hopkins and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Southern California. Dr. Vessel is former co-director of the New York University Artlab, previously worked at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany, and is a board member of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics.

Research Interests

Neural Basis of Aesthetic Appeal. How does the brain get from a representation of "what we see" to "what we like?" Using brain imaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imagine (fMRI), electroencephalograph (EEG) and functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) and computational analysis methods, we are studying the brain systems that support moving aesthetic experiences, such as when a person finds artwork to be beautiful or grooves to music. Of particular interest is the role of large-scale brain networks, such as the brain's default-mode network (DMN).

Subjective Determinants of Aesthetic Appeal. Different people have different tastes. What leads to these differences? We hypothesize that art has the ability to resonate with a person depending on their lived experience. When artwork contains content that relates our self-construct (e.g. is "self-relevant"), we are able to get more meaning from it, and find it more appealing.

Arts and Health. How can aesthetics and the arts be leveraged to improve health and well-being? I am interested in exploring how my work can be used in both clinical and non-clinical settings to increase engagement, make meaning, give pleasure, and generally improve health outcomes and measures of well-being.

Computational Basis of Pleasure from Understanding. Aesthetics, curiosity and creativity are all processes in which people can derive pleasure from the act of sense-making. We are working to create computational models of these processes to understand this core mechanism of mental function.

Inspiration and Creativity. What characterizes the brain state of "being inspired"? Is there a link between "being moved" by artwork and "being inspired" to create?

Curiosity. Why are we motivated to seek out information and reduce uncertainty in our environment? I am interested in understanding curiosity as a drive state of internal motivation that pushes us to learn about our world and ourselves.


Vessel, E.A., Pasqualette, L., Uran, C., Koldehoff, S., Vinck, M. (2023). Self-relevance predicts the aesthetic appeal of real and synthetic artworks generated via neural style transfer. Psychological Science. https://doi.org/10.1177/09567976231188107

Trupp, M.D., Bignardi, G., Specker, E., Vessel, E.A., Pelowski, M. (2023). Who benefits from art viewing, and how: the role of pleasure, meaningfulness, and trait aesthetic responsiveness in computer-based art interventions for well-being. Computers in Human Behavior, 145: 107764. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2023.107764

Golbabaei, S., Christensen, J.F., Vessel, E.A., Kazemian, N., Borhani, K. (2022). The Aesthetic Responsiveness Assessment (AReA) in Farsi Language: A scale validation and cultural adaptation study. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/aca0000532

Welke, D., Vessel, E.A. (2022). Naturalistic viewing conditions increase task engagement and aesthetic preference but have only minimal impact on EEG quality. Neuroimage, 119218. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2022.119218 

Strijbosch, W., Vessel, E.A., Welke, D., Mitas, O., Gelissen, J., Bastiaansen, M. (2022). On the neuronal dynamics of aesthetic experience: Evidence from electroencephalographic oscillatory dynamics. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 34(2). https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn_a_01812

Vessel, E.A., Ishizu, T., Bignardi, G. (2022). Neural correlates of visual aesthetic appeal. In M. Skov & M. Nadal (Ed.). Routledge Intl Handbook of Neuroaesthetics. London: Routledge. Pp. 103-133. https://www.taylorfrancis.com/chapters/edit/10.4324/9781003008675-7/neural-correlates-visual-aesthetic-appeal-edward-vessel-tomohiro-ishizu-giacomo-bignardi 

Vessel, E.A., Starr, G.S. (2022). Imaging the subjective. In A. Chatterjee & E. Cardillo (Ed.). Brain, Beauty, and Art: Essays Bringing Neuroaesthetics Into Focus. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780197513620.003.0024

Vessel, E.A., Yue, X., Biederman, I. (2022). Scene preferences, aesthetic appeal and curiosity: revisting the neurobiology of the infovore. In A. Chatterjee & E. Cardillo (Ed.). Brain, Beauty, and Art: Essays Bringing Neuroaesthetics Into Focus. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780197513620.003.0013

Isik, I., Vessel, E.A. (2021). From visual perception to aesthetic appeal: Brain responses to aesthetically appealing natural landscape movies. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 15:676032. https://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2021.676032

Welke, D.W., Purton, I., Vessel, E.A. (2021). Inspired by art: Higher aesthetic appeal elicits increased felt inspiration in a creative writing task. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Advance online publication. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/aca0000393

Vessel, E.A. (2021). Neuroaesthetics. In: Della Sala, S. (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Behavioral Neuroscience, 2nd Ed., vol 3. Elsevier. Pp. 661-670. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-809324-5.24104-7

Schlotz, W., Wallot, S. Omigie, D., Masucci, M.D., Hoelzmann, S.C., Vessel, E.A. (2020). The Aesthetic Responsiveness Assessment (AReA): A screening tool to assess individual differences in responsiveness to art in English and German. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Advance online publication. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/aca0000348

Isik, A.I., Vessel, E.A. (2019). Continuous ratings of movie watching reveal idiosyncratic dynamics of aesthetic enjoyment. PLoS ONE 14 (10): e0223896. https://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0223896

Vessel, E.A., Isik, A.I., Belfi, A.M., Stahl, J.L., Starr, G.G. (2019). The default-mode network represents aesthetic appeal that generalizes across visual domains. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Sep 2019, 201902650, https://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1902650116

Belfi, A.M.*,Vessel, E.A.*, Brielmann, A., Isik, A.I., Chatterjee, A., Leder, H., Pelli, D.G., Starr, G.G. (2019). Dynamics of aesthetic experience are reflected in the default-mode network. NeuroImage, 188, 584-597.  https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/J.NEUROIMAGE.2018.12.017 (* shared first authorship)

Belfi, A. M., Kasdan, A., Rowland, J., Vessel, E. A., Starr, G. G., & Poeppel, D. (2018). Rapid timing of musical aesthetic judgments. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 147(10), 1531-1543. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0000474

Vessel, E.A., Maurer, N.M., Denker, A.H., Starr, G.G. (2018). Stronger shared taste for natural aesthetic domains than for artifacts of human culture. Cognition, 179, 121-131. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2018.06.009

Belfi, A. M., Vessel, E. A., & Starr, G. G. (2018). Individual ratings of vividness predict aesthetic appeal in poetry. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 12(3), 341-350. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/aca0000153

Vessel, E.A., Biederman, I., Subramaniam, S., Greene, M.R. (2016). Effective signaling of surface boundaries by L-vertices reflect the consistency of their contrast in natural images. Journal of Vision, 16(9): 15, 1-10, https://dx.doi.org/10.1167/16.9.15

Vessel, E.A., Stahl, J., Maurer, N., Denker, A., Starr. G.G. (2014). Personalized visual aesthetics. Proc. SPIE 9014, Human Vision and Electronic Imaging XIX, 90140S, 1-8. https://dx.doi.org/10.1117/12.2043126

Vessel, E.A., Starr, G.G., Rubin, N. (2013). Art reaches within: aesthetic experience, the self and the default-mode network. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 7:258, https://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2013.00258

Vessel, E.A., Starr, G.G., Rubin, N. (2012). The brain on art: Intense aesthetic experience activates the default mode network. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6:66, https://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2012.00066

Vessel, E.A., & Rubin, N. (2010). Beauty and the beholder: Highly individual taste for abstract, but not real-world images.  Journal of Vision, 10(2): 18, 1-14, https://dx.doi.org/10.1167/10.2.18

Yue, X, Vessel, E.A., & Biederman, I. (2007). The neural basis of scene preferences.  NeuroReport, 16(6), 525-529. https://dx.doi.org/10.1097/WNR.0b013e328091c1f9

Biederman, I. & Vessel, E.A. (2006). Perceptual pleasure and the brain. American Scientist, 94, 249-255. https://dx.doi.org/10.1511/2006.59.247