Aesthetics and the Brain

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[Via Boing Boing] A brain study released today shows that the human ability to appreciate aesthetics is based in the prefontal cortex, part of the brain involved in decision making. The scientists at the Balearic Islands University in Spain came to this conclusion by imaging their subjects' brains while looking at art and photography. According to the study, quoted in Scientific American, "'a phylogenetic change in the prefontal cortex could give way to the decorative and artistic profusion' in humans." [article]

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So beauty is in the prefrontal cortex of the beholder.

Also in the prefrontal cortex is a sort of moral sense. When it is lacking, Antisocial Personality Disorder results. Also known as psychopathy or sociopathy, it involves:

* Failure to conform to social norms * Deceitfulness * Impulsiveness * Irritability and aggressiveness * Reckless disregard for safety * Consistent irresponsibility * Lack of remorse (taken from http://psychcentral.com/disorders/sx7.htm )

Sufferers from APD can also be charming, which can enable them to escape punishment for their actions. Little children often have APD-like behavior, including being charming, but they typically outgrow it.

I’m not sure what adaptive value an esthetic sense may have; it may be a side effect of something else. However, some moral sense whose lack produces APD does seem like a good adaptation for sociality; one would

* Respect social norms * Be honest * Be non-impulsive * Be difficult to provoke * Be concerned about safety * Be responsible * Feel guilty about misconduct

It would be interesting to study how well-developed this brain region is in monkeys and apes, and if one can track its development in the hominid fossil record.

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This page contains a single entry by John M. Lynch published on April 16, 2004 6:28 PM.

New Polemic Outbursts by the Isaac Newton of Information Theory was the previous entry in this blog.

The Privileged Planet Part 3: The Anthropic principle is the next entry in this blog.

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