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One of the most famous and talked about paintings in history is the Mona Lisa. For centuries, the portrait of Lisa Gherardini, painted by the great Leonardo Di Vinci, has captivated people from all walks of life. It was sought after by Kings and Queens, and even hung in Napoleon Bonaparte’s sleeping chamber. It has been acclaimed as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world.”

MonaLisaBut why is this painting so fascinating? Her SMILE! Or half smile, as the case may be.

At the right corner, the Mona Lisa’s mouth is turn up, in a smiling manner. In the left corner, her lip is flat, conveying no feeling whatsoever.  When we view the painting, our eyes send mixed signals to the brain.

“Different cells in the retina transmit different categories of information or ‘channels’ to the brain. These channels encode data about an object’s size, clarity, brightness and location in the visual field.” Wrote Ewen Callaway in Mona Lisa’s smile a mystery no more, his article about the study done on the Mona Lisa’s smile.

“Sometimes one channel wins over the other, and you see the smile, sometimes others take over and you don’t see the smile,” says Luis Martinez Otero, a neuroscientist at Institute of Neuroscience in Alicante, Spain, who conducted a study of the Mona Lisa’s smile, along with Diego Alonso Pablos.

Did Leonardo Di Vinci intend to cause confusion in the brains of his audience? Absolutely, Martinez Otero contends. “He wrote in one of his notebooks that he was trying to paint dynamic expressions because that’s what he saw in the street.”

So, next time you are in the street, make sure your smile is at it’s best! Because the power of a good smile can captivate us, inspire us and make us fall in love.

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