When we like what we know--a parametric fMRI analysis of beauty and familiarity

Brain Lang. 2013 Jan;124(1):1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2012.10.003. Epub 2012 Nov 21.


This paper presents a neuroscientific study of aesthetic judgments on written texts. In an fMRI experiment participants read a number of proverbs without explicitly evaluating them. In a post-scan rating they rated each item for familiarity and beauty. These individual ratings were correlated with the functional data to investigate the neural correlates of implicit aesthetic judgments. We identified clusters in which BOLD activity was correlated with individual post-scan beauty ratings. This indicates that some spontaneous aesthetic evaluation takes place during reading, even if not required by the task. Positive correlations were found in the ventral striatum and in medial prefrontal cortex, likely reflecting the rewarding nature of sentences that are aesthetically pleasing. On the contrary, negative correlations were observed in the classic left frontotemporal reading network. Midline structures and bilateral temporo-parietal regions correlated positively with familiarity, suggesting a shift from the task-network towards the default network with increasing familiarity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Beauty*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology
  • Esthetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Reading
  • Recognition, Psychology*
  • Semantics
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology
  • Young Adult