Why aesthetic judgements for beauty are highly individual

Updated: Apr 17, 2012, 16:14 PM IST

Washington: It`s often said that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Now, a new research has confirmed the old adage, as it found that aesthetic judgements for work of arts are highly individual.

In the study, the researchers showed a group of study subjects about 109 images of works of art from a variety of cultures, historical periods, styles and depicting a variety of subjects.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they monitored blood flow in the subjects` brains as they viewed the images and rated them on a scale of 1 to 4 scale, with 4 as the highest, in response to the question: "How strongly does this painting move you?"

"Your job is to give your gut-level response, based on how much you find the painting beautiful, compelling, or powerful," the team instructed.

To explore individual differences in aesthetic reactions after the brain scan was complete, the researchers asked subjects to rate the degree to which each work of art evoked nine emotions: joy, pleasure, sadness, confusion, awe, fear, disgust, beauty and the sublime.

The experiments confirmed the old saying.

"Aesthetic judgements for paintings are highly individual, in that paintings experienced as moving differ widely across people," the team wrote in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

The brain scans offered insight into the origin of the aesthetic experience. If a painting merited a 4, distinct patterns emerged in the scans. In particular, these included an increase in activity in regions of the brain belonging to the "default mode network," a network of areas associated with inward contemplation and self-assessment.

It appears that aesthetic experiences activate the brain in the same way for everyone, but the parts activated include those linked with the intensely subjective and personal nature of aesthetics, helping explain why these experiences are both universal and highly individualised, they added.