Brain region stimulated by beauty
Published 07/07/2011 | 02:54
Beauty is in the fore-brain of the beholder, a study has found.
Scientists have identified a region at the front of the brain that "lights up" in appreciation of art or music.
But how active it becomes depends on personal taste, whether an individual finds pleasure from abstract art, classical masterpieces, grand opera or rock music.
The region, known as the medial orbito-frontal cortex, is also the most honest of art critics. It responds only on the basis of enjoyment rather than technical ability or "artistic merit".
Professor Semir Zeki, from the Wellcome Laboratory of Neurobiology at University College London, who led the study, said: "The question of whether there are characteristics that render objects beautiful has been debated for millennia by artists and philosophers of art, but without an adequate conclusion.
"So, too, has the question of whether we have an abstract sense of beauty, that is to say one which arouses in us the same powerful emotional experience regardless of whether its source is, for example, musical or visual. It was time for neurobiology to tackle these fundamental questions."
Prof Zeki's team recruited 21 volunteers from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds who were asked to rate a series of paintings or musical excerpts as "beautiful, indifferent or ugly".
The participants then looked at the pictures or listened to the music again while undergoing a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scan.
Music and art previously rated as "beautiful" both stimulated activity in the medial orbito-frontal cortex, which lessened when volunteers were "indifferent".
The findings were published in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE.