Lateral biases in lighting of abstract artwork

David A. McDine, Ian J. Livingston, Nicole A. Thomas, Lorin J. Elias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Previous studies examining perceptual biases in art have revealed that paintings tend to be lit from above and to the left. Abstract images provide a way of testing for the left-light bias while controlling for cues such as posing biases, ground line, shadows, and reflections. A total of 42 participants completed a task that required moving a "virtual flashlight" across the surface of abstract images presented on a computer screen: 20 images (presented both right-side-up and upside down) were used in the study. The participant's only instruction was to "light the painting in a way that is most aesthetically pleasing to you". As predicted, participants on average focused the "virtual flashlight" in the top left quadrant. This study reveals that lateral lighting biases in artwork are not dependent on perception of local light source or interactions with discrete, concrete visual representations in the artwork.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)268-279
Number of pages12
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Abstract
  • Art
  • Flashlight
  • Lateral bias
  • Lighting

Cite this