Seeking the "Beauty Center" in the Brain: A Meta-Analysis of fMRI Studies of Beautiful Human Faces and Visual Art

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2020 Dec;20(6):1200-1215. doi: 10.3758/s13415-020-00827-z. Epub 2020 Oct 21.


During the past two decades, cognitive neuroscientists have sought to elucidate the common neural basis of the experience of beauty. Still, empirical evidence for such common neural basis of different forms of beauty is not conclusive. To address this question, we performed an activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis on the existing neuroimaging studies of beauty appreciation of faces and visual art by nonexpert adults (49 studies, 982 participants, meta-data are available at ). We observed that perceiving these two forms of beauty activated distinct brain regions: While the beauty of faces convergently activated the left ventral striatum, the beauty of visual art convergently activated the anterior medial prefrontal cortex (aMPFC). However, a conjunction analysis failed to reveal any common brain regions for the beauty of visual art and faces. The implications of these results are discussed.

Keywords: Activation likelihood estimation; Beauty; Faces; Functional magnetic resonance imaging; Visual art.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Beauty*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Mapping
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Prefrontal Cortex