The Nature of Beauty: Behavior, Cognition, and Neurobiology

Martin Skov*, Marcos Nadal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Beauty is commonly used to refer to positive evaluative appraisals that are uniquely human. Little is known, however, about what distinguishes beauty in terms of psychological function or neurobiological mechanisms. Our review describes recent empirical studies and synthesizes what behavioral, cognitive, and neuroscientific experiments have revealed about the nature of beauty. These findings suggest that beauty shares computational mechanisms with other forms of hedonic appraisal of sensory objects but is distinguished by specific conceptual expectations. Specifically, experiencing an object as pleasurable is a prerequisite for judging it to be beautiful; but to qualify as beautiful, an object must elicit especially high levels of pleasure and be matched to internal learned models of what counts as beautiful. We discuss how these empirical findings contradict several assumptions about beauty, including the notion that beauty is disinterested, and that it is specific to Homo sapiens.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)44-55
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Published online: 04 November 2020.


  • Beauty
  • Pleasure
  • Neuroaesthetics
  • Mate choice
  • Decision making

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