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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences


While it is difficult to imagine the way someone with mental illness perceives the world, paintings produced by mental illness sufferers with artistic talents offer a hint of this experience. Here we analyze these images in terms of statistics related to low-level visual processing. It is known that art in general possesses regular spatial frequency amplitude spectra, probably due to factors including luminance compression, approximation of natural scene spatial statistics, media, and aesthetics. Whatever the contributions of those factors may be, would the same ones apply for artists with schizophrenia? We find that spatial frequency content in paintings by five artists with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder is significantly different from that found in a large sample of art by painters without schizophrenia, while other basic spatial and intensity statistics are not different for the two groups. In particular, amplitude spectrum slopes are significantly steeper for paintings by artists with schizophrenia. A separate study of the works of one artist diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder confirmed these findings and showed no effect of medication type on amplitude spectrum slope. We suggest that these results support the notion that people with schizophrenia show decreased contrast sensitivity at low spatial frequencies. If people with schizophrenia cannot perceive low frequencies at the same level of contrast as that at which healthy individuals can, it follows that on average they will por



Original Citation

Graham D, Meng M. Altered spatial frequency content in paintings by artists with schizophrenia. Iperception. 2011;2(1):1-9. doi: 10.1068/i0391. Epub 2011 Feb 9. PMID: 23145222; PMCID: PMC3485771.

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