- 2018年01月12日15:24 来源：互联网
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Art and the animal kingdom——Of mice and Manet
On the murine appreciation of paintings
THE humble mouse is a doughty workhorse of science.
Every day, in laboratories around the world, the little critters are subjected to all manner of carefully controlled insults, from electric shocks to the induction of cancer, all in the name of research.
But the mice in the lab of Shigeru Watanabe, a psychologist at Keio University in Japan, have a more enjoyable life than most.
For Dr Watanabe is interested not in their bodies but in their minds.
Specifically, he is exploring their taste in fine art.
As he describes in a paper published this month in the Public Library of Science, Dr Watanabe was curious to see whether his mice had a preference for certain painters.
He put them in a chamber, one at a time, and showed each a pair of paintings by different artists.
Since science lacks a way to read mouse minds, he measured how long the animals remained near one or other of the pictures.
His mice expressed no particular preference between a picture by Wassily Kandinsky, a Russian abstract painter, and another by Piet Mondrian, a Dutch artist famous for his simple compositions of black, grid-like lines filled with primary colours.
他的老鼠对于俄国抽象画家Wassily Kandinsky的作品与荷兰艺术家Piet Mondrian的作品并无特殊偏好。
Similar indifference greeted pictures by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, a French impressionist, and Pablo Picasso, the Spanish father of Cubism.
对于法国印象派画家Pierre-Auguste Renoir和西班牙立体派画家之父Pablo Picasso的作品也是如此。
That is, perhaps, not a very surprising result.
But things got more interesting when Dr Watanabe added morphine to the mix.
The mice were injected with the drug when viewing one picture, and with an inactive saline solution when viewing another.
After a few repetitions, they began to associate one of the paintings with the morphine high, and would spend longer standing next to it.
This implies that the mice were able to tell one painting from another, when given an incentive to do so.
Nor was that the limit of their artistic abilities.
Dr Watanabe found evidence that, as well as simply telling one picture from another, his mice might be able to appreciate individual style.
When they were shown a number of paintings by a single artist after being given morphine, they showed a preference for other works by the same artist that they had never seen before.
A similar result was obtained with an experiment that used milk, rather than drugs, as the reward.
Dr Watanabe has form with animals and art.
He has previously shown that Java sparrows are able to distinguish cubist paintings from impressionist and Japanese ones, and that pigeons can tell a Chagall from a Van Gogh, as well as discriminating between the Japanese school and the impressionist.
The point of such experiments is that an animal's ability to discriminate between different kinds of art is a plausible proxy for how complex and sophisticated its vision is.
Dr Watanabe's latest results are surprising in that, though birds are known to have excellent eyesight, mice are thought to rely much more heavily on smell and touch to make their way in the world.
And it suggests that one way to improve the lot of laboratory mice around the world might be to brighten up their cages with a nice Manet or two.