Aesthetics and gender

Last night The Curator linked to a Wired blurb (hardly long enough to be an article) titled Beauty affects men’s and women’s brains differently. The title had me hooked, but the spot didn’t deliver. Some excerpts (that I’ve rearranged to make more sense):

    “This the first study about neural activation in aesthetic tasks to include sex as a variable,” said study co-author Camilo Cela-Conde, an evolutionary anthropologist at Spain’s Universitat de les Illes Balears.

    Earlier studies on sex-based cognitive differences have found that men seem to have a heightened sense of absolute location. Women, by contrast, are quicker to process relative values.

    In men, images they consider to be beautiful appear to activate brain regions responsible for locating objects in absolute terms — x- and y-coordinates on a grid. Images considered beautiful by women do the same, but they also activate regions associated with relative location: above and behind, over and under. The difference could be the result of evolutionary pressures on our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

I’m ignoring the somewhat inane plugs for evolution embedded in the blurb; the research, after all was conducted by an “evolutionary anthropoligist.” Wired notes that the study was conducted with a pretty small group of people, which makes me wonder why they bothered to mention it at all.

Further, this isn’t news. Both my wife and I — and probably any other conscious person — could have told you based on simple unscientific observations that men think more concretely and women more abstractly.

I hope this research wasn’t publicly funded.


Photo from MarkHillary’s Flickr Photostream.

About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

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