Wednesday, July 13, 2011

An insightful Daily Mail cartoon on beauty and brain activity

There was a neurobiologically interesting cartoon that accompanied the Daily Mail article on our most recent brain study on beauty, published in the open access journal PLoS One last week (you can access the paper here). The study shows that activity in a region of the brain’s pleasure and reward centre, the medial orbito-frontal cortex, correlates with the experience of beauty, whether the source of the beauty is musical or visual. A previous study by another group had shown that this same region is also active when subjects view beautiful faces.

The cartoon by Pugh has a man looking at the photograph of an ugly woman (his wife), with the caption saying “My medial orbito-frontal cortex let me down when I married her”.

There may be some truth to the cartoon. A previous study by us on romantic love had shown that when people who are passionately in love view the picture of their loved partner, significant parts of their cortex become de-activated. This may be the reason why we are commonly less judgmental about those we love.

Purely as conjecture, it may be that when the fictitious character in the cartoon was courting his future wife, with whom he may have been passionately in love, there was significant deactivation of much of his cerebral cortex, leading him not to see her ugliness.

As his love wore off, and with it the de-activation, he became more judgmental and saw the ugliness which he had not seen before.

There are of course other interpretations. But this interpretation is what comes immediately to mind when viewing this cartoon.

You see, one can get ideas about experiments from all kinds of sources.


Sam said...

The best science is inspired by unusual sources...but the Daily Mail is very unusual!

S.Z. said...

Well, now that the Daily mail has been the source of one idea, maybe it should no longer be regarded as that unusual after all.