Shaping and reshaping the aesthetic brain: Emerging perspectives on the neurobiology of embodied aesthetics

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2016 Mar:62:56-68. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.12.005. Epub 2015 Dec 15.


Less than two decades after its inception, the burgeoning field of neuroaesthetics continues to grow in interest and momentum. Despite the biological and social importance of the human body and the attention people pay to its appearance in daily life, only recently has neuroaesthetic inquiry turned its attention to questions concerning the aesthetic appraisal of the human body. We review evidence illustrating that the complexity of aesthetic experience is reflected by dynamic interplay between brain systems involved in reward, perceptual and motor processing, with a focus on aesthetic perception involving the human body. We then evaluate work demonstrating how these systems are modulated by beholders' expertise or familiarity. Finally, we discuss seminal studies revealing the plasticity of behavioural and neural responses to beauty after perceptual and motor training. This research highlights the rich potential for neuroaesthetic inquiry to extend beyond its typical realm of the fine arts to address important questions regarding the relationship between embodiment, aesthetics and performing arts. We conclude by considering some of the criticisms and limitations of neuroaesthetics, and highlight several outstanding issues for future inquiry.

Keywords: Art; Beauty; Body perception; Brain; Dance; Embodiment; Neuroaesthetics; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Esthetics / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Judgment / physiology*
  • Neurobiology / methods
  • Reward*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*