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.
Bibliographical noteEpub ahead of print. Published online: 04 November 2020.
- Mate choice
- Decision making