Using AI to decode the relationship between art and emotions, to reinvent the museum experience

As part of an innovative research project using AI technologies, Université Laval’s Co-DOT Laboratory has teamed up with MNBAQ and OVA to develop a tool for recommending and simulating artistic itineraries and experiences rooted in emotion.

Art elicits an emotional response from the observer. However, this reaction remains complex to anticipate and, consequently, to integrate into the preparation of museum experiences. At least, until now!

As part of an innovative research project using artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, the Co-DOT Laboratory at Université Laval has teamed up with the Musée national des Beaux-Arts du Québec (MNBAQ) and OVA to develop a tool for recommending and simulating artistic itineraries and experiences rooted in emotion.

Read the article in ULaval Nouvelles (In French)

Setting up a database linking art and emotion

The collaboration between the Co-DOT Laboratory and the MNBAQ dates back to 2022. In a project headed by Sébastien Tremblay, full professor at the School of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Université Laval, the characterization of emotional responses to works of art was explored. A hundred volunteers wandered through the exhibition halls, equipped with devices capable of recording both their emotions, through self-evaluation, and their physiological reactions – eye movement, heart rate and voice inflection – to contact with the works.

The data obtained from this initiative now serves as the raw material for this new collaboration between the Co-DOT laboratory and MNBAQ teams.

Develop a recommendation and simulation tool

The aim is now to harness AI tools to predict the emotional response elicited by works of art, and then develop recommendation systems to support the design of art exhibition itineraries and their simulation in virtual reality.

“Our initiative will unfold from a truly multidisciplinary perspective, as we draw on both technologies and expert knowledge from AI, computer vision, virtual reality, museology and cognitive psychology. By the time we get there, we’ll have developed a tool that will be able to recommend to the curator a set of works of art that arouse the desired emotion in the viewer, as well as enabling him or her to visualize in advance various tour scenarios in a virtual reality environment,” explains Sébastien Tremblay, also Director of the Co-DOT Laboratory.

“For over a decade, MNBAQ teams have been working to innovate and reinvent the museum experience – particularly through technology and digital. This new collaboration with the Co-DOT team will enable us to make new tools available to our design teams, tools that will make possible new approaches to crafting the experiences we offer our visitors. Needless to say, we’re delighted to be embarking on this new phase in our collaboration,” says Annie Bérubé, Head of Mediation Services at MNBAQ.

Encourage the emergence of innovative approaches in museums

The 3-year initiative is funded to the tune of $365,220 through the Alliance program of the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and PROMPT. In addition to Professor Tremblay, the research team includes Professors Denis Laurendeau, Audrey Durand and Jean-François Lalonde (Faculty of Science and Engineering), and Philip Jackson (Faculty of Social Sciences).

“PROMPT is delighted to support this new collaboration between Université Laval, OVA and the Musée national des Beaux-Arts du Québec. Initiatives on this scale can only foster the emergence of innovative approaches that benefit both the museum community and the technology market, as well as support the training of cutting-edge experts in key areas of the job market,” says Jinny Plourde, PSO Program Director at PROMPT.

The work carried out by the project team will be structured around three areas of intervention:


(1) image analysis and measurement of emotional response to works of art;

(2) interactive learning of explainable recommendation systems;

(3) interactivity between curators and the recommendation system.

About Université Laval’s Co-DOT Laboratory

Founded in 2010 by Professor Sébastien Tremblay, the Co-DOT Laboratory brings together researchers and students interested in human Cognition from three perspectives: its Distribution among individuals; its Organization – structural and functional – and its relationship with new Technologies designed to optimize performance and well-being.

About the Musée national des Beaux-Arts du Québec

The mission of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (MNBAQ) is to make known, promote and preserve Quebec art from all periods. Located in the heart of Quebec City’s Battlefields Park, the MNBAQ boasts a collection of over 37,000 works from the 17th century to the present day. Paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, prints and decorative art objects highlight Quebec’s heritage in the rooms of the collection. 

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