The sculpture was particularly suitable for Babiloni's experiments as Moses's face is not oriented toward the observer, but looks to the left.
The subjects, half of whom had never seen the masterpiece before, were asked to contemplate the statue from three different points of view, each one revealing different details.
"Interestingly, we observed a dissociation between cognitive and emotional responses," Babiloni said.
The highest cognitive appreciation was achieved when the subjects were placed in front of the sculpture, with Moses not meeting their eyes, at a distance of about 32 feet. The strongest emotions were aroused when the observers stood on the right of the statue at a distance of about 16 feet, directly toward Moses's face.
No significant cognitive and emotional responses were collected when the subjects were positioned in front of Moses, at a distance of about 16 feet.
"An eye-to-eye interaction with Moses triggers the highest emotional response. On the other hand, cortical appreciation is achieved when the subject stands in a position which allows a full view of the sculpture, albeit not fully showing Mose's face," Babiloni said.
Artworks are known to produce intense reactions. Previous studies even suggested that David, another Michelangelo's masterpiece, may cause mind-bending symptoms in overly sensitive onlookers.
The condition is similar to a dizzying and disorientating state known as "Stendhal Syndrome." Named after the French writer, its most famous victim, after he was overwhelmed by the frescoes in Florence's Church of Santa Croce in 1817, the phenomenon causes symptoms ranging from heavy perspiration, rapid heartbeat and dizziness to even exaggerated reactions such as temporary panic attacks, aggressive feelings and hallucinations.
"In our research we did not encounter any Stendhal Syndrome, although rapid heartbeat were recorded in the eye-to-eye interaction with Moses," Babiloni said.
Bin He, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, found the experiment interesting.
"This is a beautiful demonstration that brain-mapping techniques are not only able to map pathology, but also the higher order brain functions such as emotion," he told Discovery News.