The neural correlates of beauty comparison

Kedia G, Mussweiler T, Mullins P, et al.

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2014;9:681-688.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. How attractive someone is perceived to be depends on the individual or cultural standards to which this person is compared. But although comparisons play a central role in the way people judge the appearance of others, the brain processes underlying attractiveness comparisons remain unknown. In the present experiment, we tested the hypothesis that attractiveness comparisons rely on the same cognitive and neural mechanisms as comparisons of simple nonsocial magnitudes such as size. We recorded brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while participants compared the beauty or height of two women or two dogs. Our data support the hypothesis of a common process underlying these different types of comparisons. First, we demonstrate that the distance effect characteristic of nonsocial comparisons also holds for attractiveness comparisons. Behavioral results indicated, for all our comparisons, longer response times for near than far distances. Second, the neural correlates of these distance effects overlapped in a frontoparietal network known for its involvement in processing simple nonsocial quantities. These results provide evidence for overlapping processes in the comparison of physical attractiveness and nonsocial magnitudes.