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Clinical EEG & Neuroscience Journal

Journal of Clinical EEG & Neuroscience, July, 2009

Brain Electrical Responses to High- and Low-Ranking Buildings

Ilan Oppenheim, Heiner Mühlmann, Gerhard Blechinger, Ian W. Mothersill, Peter Hilfiker, Hennric Jokeit, Martin Kurthen, Günter Krämer and Thomas Grunwald


Since the ancient world, architecture generally distinguishes two categories of buildings with either high- or low-ranking design. High-ranking buildings are supposed to be more prominent and, therefore, more memorable. Here, we recorded event-related potentials (ERPs) to drawings of buildings with either high- or low-ranking architectural ornaments and found that ERP responses between 300 and 600 ms after stimulus presentation recorded over both frontal lobes were significantly more positive in amplitude to high-ranking buildings. Thus, ERPs differentiated reliably between both classes of architectural stimuli although subjects were not aware of the two categories. We take our data to suggest that neurophysiological correlates of building perception reflect aspects of an architectural rule system that adjust the appropriateness of style and content (“decorum”). Since this rule system is ubiquitous in Western architecture, it may define architectural prototypes that can elicit familiarity memory processes.

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