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Can Science Define Beauty?

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Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but that doesn’t mean science won’t try to decode it anyway. Researchers found when looking at something aesthetically pleasing, the sensory areas of the brain light up, and the more beautiful the item,  the greater the brain activity in certain regions.

Neurobiologist Semir Zeki and his colleagues at the University College London in the U.K. used a computer program to generate sets of white dots moving on a black background.

The eight patterns all had the same number of dots and changes in speed, but the particles moved in different ways. The patterns were then viewed by 16 adults before and during brain scans, and the volunteers were later asked to rate how much they liked each visual stimulus.

The results showed 14 of the 16 participants liked the same patterns, and that a certain sensory brain area called V5, thought to play a major role in motion perception, reacted more when the participants viewed the patterns they most preferred. Researchers were also able to pick out certain characteristics — such as the separation between dots — that made some patterns more attractive.

“For the first time, we can ask questions about subjective preferences and relate them to activity in the brain,” Dr. Zeki told LiveScience. “There are some people who would prefer [beauty] to remain a mystery, but that’s not how scientists view things.”

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