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Beauty Lies In Brain Of The Beholder, Not The Eyes

July 7, 2011

According to scientists, the secret of beauty may lie in the medial orbito frontal cortex, which is the area of the brain just behind the eyes.

University College London researchers say it is the part of the brain that lights up when someone encounters something beautiful, depending on tastes.

Brain expert Semir Zeki asked 21 young men and women to rate the beauty of a selection of paintings and pieces of music.  The brains were scanned as they viewed and listened to the selections.

The study revealed the medial orbito-frontal cortex was more active when the subjects were looking at or listening to something they really liked.

Professor Zeki said in a statement: “Almost anything can be considered art but we argue that only creations whose experience correlates with activity in the medial  orbito-frontal cortex would fall into the classification of beautiful art.”

“A painting by Francis Bacon may have great artistic merit but may not qualify as beautiful.”

The finding suggests different types of beauty trigger different pleasure centers in the brain.

Zeki, who was funded by the Wellcome Trust, 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 obvious 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.”

The caudate nucleus, which lies near the center of the brain, also lights up when someone thinks about a person they are in love with.

Zeki also showed how maternal love is similar to romantic love.

He also found that there is a fine line between the feelings of love and hate, with many of the same brain regions lighting up.

The study was published in the journal PLoS ONE.

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