Sunday, July 10, 2011

Beauty in the Brain

Here's one of several articles that have come out on an fMRI study from University College of London. It's very preliminary and may get revised in significant ways, but it makes a great deal of intuitive sense to me that our awareness of beauty can occur in different categories of experience. 

They watched where the blood went in the brain when people experienced beauty in both music and visual art. One particular part of the brain responded to both, the medial oribitofrontal cortex (mOFC).

Several studies have linked the mOFC to beauty, but this is a sizeable part of the brain with many roles. It’s also involved in our emotions, our feelings of reward and pleasure, and our ability to make decisions. Nonetheless, Ishizu and Zeki found that one specific area, which they call “field A1” consistently lit up when people experienced beauty.

The images and music were accompanied by changes in other parts of the brain as well, but only the mOFC reacted to beauty in both forms. And the more beautiful the volunteers found their experiences, the more active their mOFCs were. That is not to say that the buzz of neurons in this area produces feelings of beauty; merely that the two go hand-in-hand.

This all made me think of the Golden Mean and proportions and relationships and balance. Beauty seems to reside in the ways various parts of things fit together and relate to one another. In the most beautiful, the various parts can disappear into the whole.

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