Whether we like it or not, beauty matters.
For centuries philosophers have debated whether there are universal standards of beauty. Experts in the burgeoning field of neuroaesthetics suggest there are. Beauty, they say, is not in the eye of the beholder, but in the limbic system.
Their research shows that aesthetic experiences activate our neurological centers for pleasure, which, in turn, affect our moods, behavior, and ultimately, wellbeing.
In our effort to understand why certain people, places or things are perceived as more beautiful than others, we turned to Dr. Anjan Chatterjee, a world-renown pioneer in the field of neuroaesthetics and director of the Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics. (Pauline is one of its advisory board members.) Dr. Chatterjee highlighted three distinct ways in which our visual systems process the exterior world.
Below, some of his key findings:
Despite some variations across different geographies and cultures, humans are generally attracted to those with features marked by:
PRONOUNCED GENDER TRAITS
These traits, historically, were indicators of health and fertility and therefore perceived as desirable. So, when it comes to beauty pageants, our reptilian brains still seem to prevail!
When it comes to architectural design, three distinct characteristics affect how a built environment makes people feel:
How rich and interesting is the environment? Does it compel you to explore?
How comfortable is the environment? Does it feel safe and relaxing?
How organized is the environment? Is it easy to navigate?
Art and other beautiful objects activate the motor systems in our brains. They make us feel drawn and attached purely because of their aesthetics. (Such objects generally have no practical utility.)
There’s a reason why we describe art as “moving”; it spurs cognitive movement.
Unlike with people and places, our appreciation of beautiful things is not instinctive, nor universally consistent – but shaped primarily by culture, values, experiences and exposure.
(As we always say at A.I.Labs, yes, taste can be cultivated….and it ought to evolve!)
A deeper understanding of our cognitive, perceptual and emotional responses to aesthetics can have a profound effect on our wellbeing as well as the society in which we live.
For instance, recognizing the intrinsic attitude we all have towards particular facial features enables us to correct unconscious biases – such as the “beauty is good” assumption – and adjust our perceptions to a more modern and just world. Exploring our emotional relationship to the built environment enables us to support better designs for our own communities – at work and at home. And, lastly, understanding the pleasure derived from aesthetic objects empowers us to make more informed buying and selling decisions and, over time, surround ourselves with our own aesthetic masterpieces.
Our mission at A.I.Labs is to put human delight at the heart of business strategy. We collaborate with neuroscientists, psychologists, business leaders and philosophers alike to collect, synthesize and translate the latest research on aesthetics and come up with practical strategies for the executives, entrepreneurs and other professionals in our community of tastemakers.