What Makes Things Beautiful?


A beautiful flower, sunset, or sculpture is pleasing to the eyes and senses. But what makes something beautiful can be quite subjective. A brown spotted grass frog may seem ugly to you, but someone who studies these creatures all day might think it’s beautiful. That’s why the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” exists – it means that almost anything can be considered beautiful by some people, depending on their tastes and interests.

There’s also the noun beauty, which refers to a person’s appearance. The adjective beautiful, or its adjectival form lovely, is most often used to describe a woman’s physical attractiveness, though handsome and pretty are also common descriptions of men and their appearance. The superlatives beautifulr and more beautifull are also used, but they’re not as commonly used as beautiful and lovely.

In the past, many researchers have tried to understand what makes things beautiful. Some have focused on mathematical relationships between a stimulus and its percept, like Fechner’s golden ratio experiments. Others have tried to link brain activity to aesthetic evaluations, such as in a series of studies that have linked certain brain regions to rating the attractiveness of faces or visual art.

The latest study compared results from these types of ratings to fMRI scans of participants’ brains as they viewed the stimuli. It found that the fMRI data supported the hypothesis that there is a specific area of the brain associated with beauty (the capital-B beauty center). This region was activated when participants rated either average or beautiful faces, but not when they viewed other kinds of stimuli, such as scenes from nature or works of art.

Other research has also suggested that the brain region responsible for eliciting motivated behaviors—like eating, drinking, or interacting with people—is involved in our appraisals of beauty. It’s possible that both the valence and arousal components of motivation are combined into this one region, but more research is needed to test this theory.

The Beautifull Cassandra, a short novel from Jane Austen’s juvenilia, was written when she was only twelve or thirteen years old. It combines her trademark themes of class distinction and social commentary with her irreverent humor, sense of the absurd, and gift for parody. In this charming edition, edited and introduced by Claudia L. Johnson, this literary treasure is sure to delight readers of all ages.