Men and Women Respond Differently to Beauty

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Researchers on Monday reported that brains of men and women respond differently to items of beauty. Men use the right side of the brain to process beauty while women use their whole brains said the researchers in Tuesday's electronic edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Researcher Camilo J. Cela-Conde of the University of Baleares in Palma de Mallorca, Spain said, "It is well known that there are differences between brain activity in women and men in cognitive tasks. However, why should this kind of difference appear in the case of appreciation of beauty?"

He explained that when women look at a visual object they link it to language unlike men who tend to concentrate on the spatial aspects of the object. He doesn't know however why and how the human capacity to appreciate beauty evolved. "The differences that we have found might relate to the different social roles that, hypothetically, men and women had during human evolution." he said.

The study was conducted by Francisco Ayala of the University of California, Irvine and colleagues in Spain who tested the brain activity of 10 men and 10 women while they were looking at paintings and photos of urban scenes and landscapes. They were asked to rate each scene as either "beautiful" or "not beautiful." While viewing the scenes their brain activity was mapped using imaging technology called magnetoencephalography which looked at images of the magnetic fields produced by electrical currents in the brains of the men and women.

The researchers reported that during the first 300 milliseconds, there was no difference between male and female brains. From 300 to 700 milliseconds the activity was greater for objects that were rated as beautiful than for those that were not beautiful. In both men and women the parietal lobe that deals with visual perception, spatial orientation and information processing, was the most active, but in men it was focused on the right side of the brain while in the case of women both sides of the brain were involved. 

Cela-Conde said, "It is curious that, using different neural networks, the final result is very similar in women and men. But this seems to be the case." He added, "Human nature is complex and difficult to study and understand. Nevertheless, thanks to scientific tools we are starting to know a bit more about some very important aspects of our nature." 

The researchers wrote, "The differences between the decorative objects found in Neanderthal and modern human sites support that idea of a 'modern brain' capable of appreciating beauty and its uses in different ways. Perhaps women make use of both global and local features in making their judgments, whereas men only rely on global features."

The researchers concluded that language could also have a link. "Women obtain higher scores on a diversity of verbal and language tasks. Perhaps women are more likely to associate the images with verbal labels than men," they wrote. 

 


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