Beauty Is in the Brain of the Beholder

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Scientists are trying to understand the concept of beauty using neurology, thinking that the “eye of the beholder” could be linked to a function of the brain. Writing for Seed, Moheb Costandi presents a history of scientific attempts to figure out the essence of beauty, from experiments with mescaline in the 1920s to Semir Zeki‘s pioneering work in neuroaesthetics at University College London.

UCL scientists are collaborating with leaders in the arts and humanities to study the beauty in many forms, including prose and music. They’re are also examining the ways people perceive the aesthetics of architecture and other spatial relationships. In one study where scientists monitored brain activity as subjects looked at paintings, Costandi reports that “the ‘uglier’ a painting, the greater the motor cortex activity, as if the brain was preparing to escape.”

Researchers hope to learn what universal qualities, if any, the human mind assigns to beautiful things, how long-term exposure to beauty might permanently alter our neurological pathways, and how beauty affects other neurological conditions, such as depression. “An object’s beauty may not be universal,” Costandi speculates, “but the neural basis for appreciating beauty probably is.”

(Thanks, Dan.)

(Image adapted from a photo by goatling, licensed by Creative Commons.)

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