Anjan Chatterjee uses tools from evolutionary psychology and cognitive neuroscience to study one of nature’s most captivating concepts: beauty. Learn more about the science behind why certain configurations of line, color and form excite us in this fascinating, deep look inside your brain. Because the idea of beauty is a social construct, see what the research reveals about universal ideas of beauty.  (Original TED site)


Why you should listen:

In his recent book, The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art (, cognitive neuroscientist Anjan Chatterjee investigates neural responses to beauty, explaining that the faces and places we find aesthetically pleasing may promote evolutionary success.(Op. Cite.)

Who is he:

He has numerous publications to his name in areas such as attention, spatial cognition and neuroethics, Chatterjee is the former president of the Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology Society and the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics, and he is also a founding member of the Board of Governors of the Neuroethics Society. In 2016, Chatterjee was awarded the Rudolph Arnheim Award for contributions to psychology and the arts. Currently at the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania, Chatterjee’s cutting edge work in neuroaesthetics bridges art and neuroscience in complex and fascinating ways. (Op. Cite.)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who is Francis Galton and what surprising discovery did he make?
  2. What is beauty? For most of human history, these questions have been approached using logic and speculation. What is the work of Chatterjee and others based on?
  3. Chatterjee states that “People with mixed features represent different populations, and presumably harbor greater genetic diversity and adaptability to the environment. Many people find mixed-race individuals attractive and inbred families less so.” Is this true in your experience? Explain your answer to someone.
  4. People generally find symmetric faces more attractive than asymmetric ones. Developmental abnormalities are often associated with asymmetries. And in plants, animals and humans, asymmetries often arise from parasitic infections. Symmetry, it turns out, is also an indicator of health.” Chatterjee follows this statement with the story of Maksymilian Faktorowicz. Explain the significance of this story.
  5. The “fusiform gyrus, the lateral occipital complex, the ventral striatum, the orbitofrontal cortex and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex” are neurological terms for regions of the brain involved in processing the look of persons or objects. Write a single sentence that captures what they do.
  6. In Chatterjee’s lab, it was found that “people with minor facial anomalies and disfigurements are regarded as less good, less kind, less intelligent, less competent and less hardworking.” The so-called universal attributes of beauty were selected for during the almost two million years of the Pleistocene. The selection criteria for reproductive success from that time doesn’t really apply today. Are we back Then to “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” Explain your answer to someone? 


 Making Connections:

Latest Book by Chatterjee

The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art,

Books by Other Authors

Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison

Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior

Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity

How Your Brain Decides What is Beautiful with Anjan Chatterjee


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