a meta-analysis of 49 brain imaging studies finds that different parts of the brain are involved in the appreciation of the visual beauty of arts and of faces. there's no 'beauty centre'  

original article: Chuan-Peng et al., 2020 (Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience), reported in: Scientific American by Jason Castro on 2nd February 2021 image source

this story was in episode 3 #art #beauty #faces #fMRI #meta-analysis

the error bar says

in case relationship breakups and the brain basis of loneliness weren't enough to bring you down, Scientific American reviews a brain imaging study published in October last year, concluding that there is no 'beauty centre' in the brain

the researcher team from China, Germany and Scotland, searched for all of the published studies that had scanned peoples' brains while they were looking at beautiful things like art, or people's faces, and compared them to less-beautiful things

comparing beautiful and less-beautiful things in each study had resulted in some areas of the brain being more active than others

combining all the faces and all the arts studies revealed two regions of common responsiveness - one for faces and one for arts

the face beauty region was in the prefrontal cortex - that's an important part of the brain that we heard about in the last episode to do with obsessive compulsive behaviours

the art beauty region was, err, also in the prefrontal cortex, but a slightly different location

there was no overlap at all - there is no 'beauty' region in the brain

is there really no brain area for beauty?

no, sorry. and the study seems to be quite sensible and reliable, statistically-speaking

but if you really want to find a brain area for beauty - if that will make you happy - then you can cling on to some unavoidable drawbacks of this kind of meta-analysis:

the meta-analysis is only as good as the individual studies that were included in it, and no specific assessment of study quality was reported

and the meta-analysis was based only on the peak activations in each study, rather than all of the raw data. if you need there to be a common brain area for beauty, then you can hope that all the missing brain activity would somehow sum up to create a brain blob for beauty


yes, it probably isn't


Scientific American: fact - scientific story reported well