I've got abstracts and links to two articles on art and something called the default mode network, which Wikipedia defines as follows:
In neuroscience, the default mode network (DMN), (also default network, or default state network), is a network of interacting brain regions known to have activity highly correlated with each other and distinct from other networks in the brain. The default mode network is most commonly shown to be active when a person is not focused on the outside world and the brain is at wakeful rest, such as during daydreaming and mind-wandering, but it is also active when the individual is thinking about others, thinking about themselves, remembering the past, and planning for the future. The network activates "by default" when a person is not involved in a task. Though the DMN was originally noticed to be deactivated in certain goal-oriented tasks and is sometimes referred to as the task-negative network, it can be active in other goal-oriented tasks such as social working memory or autobiographical tasks. The DMN has been shown to be negatively correlated with other networks in the brain such as attention networks.
So, the DMN is focussed on the self, but not the external world. Art, of course, exists in the external world. The two studies below report that when people are particularly moved by a piece of art (visual art in these experiments), the DMN is activated, despite the fact that the art work exists in the external world. It thus seems that art that "reaches" us, that "moves" us is functionally "inside" us, rather than outside. Which makes sense, no?
See my post, Emotion Recollected in Tranquility, for some remarks on literature and the self. There I suggest that literature helps lay the neurochemical groundwork necessary to being able to recall events that evoke different emotions. What I'm in effect suggesting is that art may be important in making effective use of the DMN for organizing personal experience. That post is one of several in a working paper, Literature, Emotion, and Unity of Being. Here's the abstract:
Unity of being is both an aesthetic and an ethical ideal and it is about organizing desire, action, and emotion into a pattern of overall coherence. Such patterns are necessarily culture specific and somewhat arbitrary in their disposition of underlying biological materials. Stories involving often painful and embarrassing aspects of human behavior provide a means of publicly acknowledging and affirming the bewildering diversity of our behavior. Thus publically affirmed, these nonfictions are the means of constructing the neural 'scaffolding' on which we recall and organize the events of our lives.
* * * * *