Over the last five years brain research has rapidly developed technologies for influencing and changing our thoughts, perceptions and feelings. The new field of optogenetics, for example, has proven that light delivered via fiber optics into the brain can change the behavior of individual neurons and may one day help those suffering from Parkinson's, depression or other brain disorders. And most recently, researchers have used brain stimulation to increase one's appreciation and enjoyment of art.
Neuroscientists at the University of Milano-Bicocca in Italy had subjects study and rate 70 abstract paintings and drawings, and 80 realistic paintings and photographs. Then they received transcranial direct-current stimulation to specific parts of their brain. This technique sends small electrical impulses to the brain via electrodes placed on top of the head (no drilling needed!) I know it sounds medieval but it's quite modern, non-invasive and delivers zero feeling, no pain, no tickle, nothing. In fact the subjects had no awareness of the electrical impulses. Scientists aimed the current at what is called the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain area responsible for emotional processing.
Then subjects rated a group of similar artworks. This time their ratings were significantly higher than the first round—but only for the realistic paintings and the photographs. Their appreciation of the abstract pieces did not change. According to the researchers, abstract art might be processed in a different area of the brain.
There has been a lot of work recently on enhancing experiences through non-invasive methods. Stimulating areas of the brain have been known to help people solve puzzles or math problems. There has also been success with increasing motor skills and learning - actually helping musicians or athletes improve their game.
While it brings to mind a sci-fi future of control - we are still a long way off from robotic overlords changing our thoughts. However, altering the way we see a painting or a math problem appears to be the first logical step, doesn't it?