Whether you're admiring a painting or enjoying a song, all the works of art you favor lead to activity in the same region of the brain, a new study shows. The findings go some way to support the view that beauty is in the perception of the beholder rather than in the object.
Researchers asked 21 volunteers from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds to rate a series of paintings or pieces of music as beautiful, indifferent or ugly. Participants then looked at the pictures or listened to the music while lying in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, which measures brain activity.
The finding showed that the medial orbitofrontal cortex, which is part of the brain's pleasure and reward center, was more active in participants when they listened to music or viewed a picture that they had rated as beautiful. However, no particular region of the brain correlated generally with artwork rated as ugly.
That the same area of the brain was activated for both visual and auditory beauty implies that beauty exists as an abstract concept within the brain, researchers from the University College London's Wellcome Laboratory of Neurobiology say.
Activity in another region, the caudate nucleus, located near the center of the brain, increased in proportion to the relative visual beauty of a painting. The region has been previously reported to correlate with romantic love, suggesting a neural association for the relationship between beauty and love.
The findings were published today (July 6) in the journal PLoS One.