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Unraveling the Aestetic Mind in Anhedonia

Insights from pharmacological imaging of the human brain

This project aims at understanding the neuronal underpinnings of anhedonia and hedonic experiences by merging two distinct fields, empirical aesthetics and pharmacological/clinical neuroimaging. With the recent rise of ketamine as an effective antidepressant and description of its effects on hedonic tone, a unique opportunity arises to investigate hedonic experiences, their neuronal signature, and their relation to well-being in healthy subjects and patients with anhedonia. This project will not only probe the relevance of the hedonic experience and its neurobiological correlates for ketamine’s antidepressant effects, but will also implement a causative approach in empirical aesthetics enabling a systematic manipulation of the hedonic experience itself. We will assess the hedonic experience in response to visual art and music, compare the behavioral effects during ketamine and placebo administration, identify their neuronal signatures in healthy participants, and translate the findings to patients with anhedonia.

We will investigate participants in 4 sessions (baseline, two experimental sessions (ketamine/placebo), and a post-session) adapting experimental tasks from the field of empirical aesthetics and implementing functional recordings with magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of complex network interaction, behavioral and physiological measures, as well as an extensive battery of standard assessment scales. The project has 4 aims: (1) understanding the hedonic experience and its different aspects; (2) Understanding the complex network interaction underlying the hedonic experience; (3) Understanding temporal dimensions of the ketamine-induced hedonic experience; (4) Translating these findings to patients with anhedonia.

The main goal of this cluster is to establish a foundation of collaboration between two domains, empirical aesthetics and pharmacological/clinical neuroimaging, to launch a new direction in research on anhedonia and neuroaesthetics and further establish advanced methodologies in both fields.


Mag. Dr. Julia Sophia Crone

University of Vienna

Assoc.Prof.Priv.-Doz.Dr. Rupert Lanzenberger

Medical University of Vienna