Naturalizing aesthetics: brain areas for aesthetic appraisal across sensory modalities

Neuroimage. 2011 Sep 1;58(1):250-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.06.012. Epub 2011 Jun 15.


We present here the most comprehensive analysis to date of neuroaesthetic processing by reporting the results of voxel-based meta-analyses of 93 neuroimaging studies of positive-valence aesthetic appraisal across four sensory modalities. The results demonstrate that the most concordant area of activation across all four modalities is the right anterior insula, an area typically associated with visceral perception, especially of negative valence (disgust, pain, etc.). We argue that aesthetic processing is, at its core, the appraisal of the valence of perceived objects. This appraisal is in no way limited to artworks but is instead applicable to all types of perceived objects. Therefore, one way to naturalize aesthetics is to argue that such a system evolved first for the appraisal of objects of survival advantage, such as food sources, and was later co-opted in humans for the experience of artworks for the satisfaction of social needs.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Art
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Beauty
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Esthetics / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Sensation / physiology*
  • Smell / physiology
  • Taste / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology