Our brains have different 'beauty centers' for art and faces

Psychologists discover that the way the brain perceives beauty differs between art or faces.

Our brains have different 'beauty centers' for art and faces
Credit: kevin laminto on Unsplash
  • A new study shows that different parts of the brain are engaged when we look at beautiful faces or beautiful art.
  • Reward pathways are triggered by looking at beauty in faces.
  • Another part of the brain is involved in judging beauty in art, indicating existence of two "beauty centers."

What makes something or someone beautiful to our minds? Is there an innate perception of beauty that's maintained throughout all scenarios? Interestingly, a new study concludes that our brains have not one but two separate "beauty centers" – one for art and one for faces.

Scientists carried out a meta-analysis of existing fMRI studies with around 1,000 people. Led by Hu Chuan-Peng of Tsinghua University, China, the team zeroed in on 49 studies that performed brain analyses of people between 18 and 50. None of them were art experts, but some studies involved people reacting to art like paintings, sculpture, architecture, and dance videos. Other studies under consideration looked at responses to human faces. All the studies used fMRI brain imaging technology as the subjects were making aesthetic choices or rating specific stimuli.

The researchers used a meta-analysis technique called "activation likelihood estimation" (ALE) to find connections in studies which tracked brain activity patterns of people looking at something or someone they perceived to be beautiful.

The approach showed that looking at beautiful faces causes activity in several parts of the brain, which is not observed when looking at faces that were not rated as beautiful – the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex, as well as the left ventral striatum. Notably, looking at art did not result in more activity in any of those areas. Rather, greater action in the anterior medial prefrontal cortex (aMPFC) was noticed.

Why is there such a difference? The scientists propose that looking at a beautiful face provokes a response in the brain's reward pathway, of which the ventral striatum is an important part. As explained by Emma Young in the Research Digest of the British Psychological Society, the signal is then integrated into the vmPFC and generates a positive feeling.

Young notes that beautiful faces are treated by our brains like "primary rewards" not too different from food or sex, geared at the survival of our genes. Looking at art is rather a "secondary reward." We taught ourselves to find it pleasurable but the brain processes that type of stimuli differently, via high-level processing in the aMPFC.

As the new study concerned itself with how our brains handle visual beauty, further investigation is needed to understand the processing of non-visual beauty like music, for instance, or if there is some universal standard of what is deemed beautiful.

Check out the study "Seeking the 'Beauty Center' in the Brain: A Meta-Analysis of fMRI Studies of Beautiful Human Faces and Visual Art," published in Cognitive, Affective & Behavioural Neuroscience.

U.S. Navy controls inventions that claim to change "fabric of reality"

Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.

U.S. Navy ships

Credit: Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
  • Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
  • While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
Keep reading Show less

Modern society is as unequal as 14th century Europe

As bad as this sounds, a new essay suggests that we live in a surprisingly egalitarian age.

"Philosophy Presenting the Seven Liberal Arts to Boethius"

Getty Open Content
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new essay depicts 700 years of economic inequality in Europe.
  • The only stretch of time more egalitarian than today was the period between 1350 to approximately the year 1700.
  • Data suggest that, without intervention, inequality does not decrease on its own.
Keep reading Show less

You are suffering from “tab overload”

Our love-hate relationship with browser tabs drives all of us crazy. There is a solution.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
Technology & Innovation
  • A new study suggests that tabs can cause people to be flustered as they try to keep track of every website.
  • The reason is that tabs are unable to properly organize information.
  • The researchers are plugging a browser extension that aims to fix the problem.
Keep reading Show less
Personal Growth

Epicurus and the atheist's guide to happiness

Seek pleasure and avoid pain. Why make it more complicated?

Quantcast