The Brain on Beauty: Neuroaesthetics

  • Rhett DiessnerEmail author


Semir Zeki coined the word “neuro-esthetics” (neuroaesthetics) in 1999. The first neuroaesthetic study was published in 2000 (Hansen, Brammer, & Calvert), followed by three seminal papers in 2004 (Vartanian & Goel; Kawabati & Zeki; Cela-Conde et al.). Why do we find something beautiful? Evo Psyc might be able to tell us. How do we find things beautiful? Neuroaesthetics sheds light on that. “The aesthetic triad” comprises the interaction of three neural systems to create our aesthetic experiences: the sensory-motor system, the emotion-valuation system, and the knowledge-meaning system (Chatterjee & Vartanian, Trends in Cognitive Sciences 370–375, 2014, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 172–194, 2016). Experiences of beauty involve the pleasure centers and reward circuits of the brain; pleasure may be a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for experiences of beauty. The medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC) may be involved in all or most experiences of beauty (Ishizu & Zeki, PLoS One e21852, 2011). However, caution is warranted in making such a claim. The meta-analytic review by Brown et al. (NeuroImage 250–258, 2011) indicated that the right anterior insula was the main nexus of all beauty experiences but that different kinds of beauty (taste, scent, visual, auditory) were processed in different parts of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). Observing moral beauty may be simultaneously arousing and calming (activating both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems).

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Lewis-Clark State CollegeLewistonUSA

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