Neuroscientists at the California Institute of Technology have identified the neural basis for the formation of aesthetic preferences in humans. The results of the researchers’ work were published in the journal Nature Communications.
Previously, researchers trained a computer to predict the taste preferences of volunteers by providing it with data about which pictures people liked and which they didn’t. With enough training, the computer has learned to correctly guess whether a person will like, for example, a painting by Monet or Rothko.
In the new study, volunteers assessed up to a thousand paintings over four days while scientists scanned their brains using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. The previously trained neural network predicted the decision of the subjects and evaluated such qualities of the pictures as contrast, hue, dynamics and concreteness.
As it turned out, the visual cortex, the area of the brain that processes visual cues, judged the quality of the pictures, and the medial prefrontal cortex was responsible for assigning subjective value to them.
“Essentially, the brain breaks down a work of art into its essential qualities and then decides whether those qualities are pleasing or not. In much the same way, the brain decides whether it likes food: it analyzes it according to its content of proteins, fats, carbohydrates and vitamins. Apparently, this behavior is characteristic of the brain in many areas,” the researchers explained.