Brain of the beholder: The neuroscience of beauty

Picasso's 'Girl before a mirror' (Photo credit: Nathan Laurell via Flickr)
Picasso’s ‘Girl before a mirror’ (Photo credit: Nathan Laurell via Flickr)

What is beauty? Is there an objective way of defining what it is that makes something beautiful, or is beauty — as the old cliché goes — in the eye of the beholder? These questions were, for centuries, the domain of philosophers and artists. Evolutionary biologists since Darwin have also speculated on the question of whether there are universal features of beauty that hold true for different species.

But it’s only been very recently that neurobiologists have stepped into the fray. With developments in brain imaging techniques, we can now start to ask, not only what do you find beautiful, but also, what’s actually going on in your brain when you lay eyes on a beautiful person, or a stunning landscape painting, or when you hear a spine-tingling piece of  music?

I was joined on Up Close recently by a pioneer in the field of neuroesthetics, Professor Semir Zeki,  Professor of neuroesthetics in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at University College London. Check out the interview here.


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