Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Mind

Mona Lisa Smile

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

"What people love about the Mona Lisa is that her expression changes as you look at her, and that makes her seem alive," says Margaret Livingstone, a neurobiologist at Harvard University. She insists that the expression really does change, but the switch occurs in your eye, not in the paint. Our central vision is good at picking up small details, whereas peripheral vision processes blurry features, called low spatial frequencies. Mona Lisa's smile is painted in soft tones and muted colors that fall into those low frequencies, Livingstone finds. "You cannot see it with your central vision. It appears only to your peripheral vision when you look away from the mouth," she says.

rd_mona.jpg

Soft tones emphasize Mona Lisa's smile. Harder-edged features evoke an enigmatic, somber expression. Photograph courtesy of Margaret Livingstone/Harvard University.

2 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 75%

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In