Millennium Post

Mona Lisa effect

Across centuries, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa has never ceased to mystify. The painting of the mysterious lady confounds researchers and art critics alike. The great Nat King Cole sang the famous song for her mystic smile. But the lady in the frame at Louvre is known for two things: her enigmatic smile and her steady gaze, widely believed to follow her viewers around the room. Indeed, the world-renowned painting, also known as La Gioconda, inspired the name of a scientific phenomenon: the Mona Lisa effect, or the perception that the subject of an image is always looking directly at you, no matter where you stand. But scientists from Germany's Bielefeld University published in the journal i-Perception that there is one painting that definitively does not demonstrate the Mona Lisa effect: the Mona Lisa herself. They say the subject of the painting is actually looking about 15 degrees to your right, at your right ear, perhaps, or even over your shoulder. Gernot Horstmann, an associate professor at Bielefeld University's Center of Excellence, Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC), and Sebastian Loth, asked 24 participants to assess the gaze of the Mona Lisa. Instead of simply asking each participant whether they felt the Mona Lisa was looking at them, a binary response likely to be influenced by existing beliefs, they displayed the painting on a computer screen and asked participants to measure the direction of the gaze on a two-metre carpenter's rule placed horizontally between them and the screen. The distance between the participants and the computer screen remained the same, at 66 cm, but the ruler was moved both closer to and further away from the screen throughout the trial. Researchers also altered the size and visible area of the Mona Lisa to determine whether the perception of her stare was influenced by particular elements of her face. To avoid the participants settling on the same measurement on a ruler every time, Horstmann and Loth also showed them that Mona Lisa moved 3.4 cm to the left and right. Previous research cited in the study indicates the range of the Mona Lisa effect: the subject of an image will appear to be looking at its viewer if its gaze is within 5 degrees to the left or right. The gaze of the Mona Lisa, however, was measured by the study participants at an average angle of 15.4 degrees to the right, in short, the Mona Lisa is definitely not looking at her audience. "There is no doubt about the existence of the Mona Lisa effect," Horstmann and Loth concluded. Adding, "It just does not occur with Mona Lisa herself." But she and her mystic smile will continue to mystify.

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