Friday, March 20, 2009

Neural correlates of aesthetic preference - differences between men and women

The abstract from Cela-Condea et al.:
The capacity to appreciate beauty is one of our species' most remarkable traits. Although knowledge about its neural correlates is growing, little is known about any gender-related differences. We have explored possible differences between men and women's neural correlates of aesthetic preference. We have used magnetoencephalography to record the brain activity of 10 male and 10 female participants while they decided whether or not they considered examples of artistic and natural visual stimuli to be beautiful. Our results reveal significantly different activity between the sexes in parietal regions when participants judged the stimuli as beautiful. Activity in this region was bilateral in women, whereas it was lateralized to the right hemisphere in men. It is known that the dorsal visual processing stream, which encompasses the superior parietal areas, has been significantly modified throughout human evolution. We posit that the observed gender-related differences are the result of evolutionary processes that occurred after the splitting of the human and chimpanzee lineages. In view of previous results on gender differences with respect to the neural correlates of coordinate and categorical spatial strategies, we infer that the different strategies used by men and women in assessing aesthetic preference may reflect differences in the strategies associated with the division of labor between our male and female hunter-gatherer hominin ancestors.
They suggest:
...One possible explanation for the greater lateralization in men than in women could be grounded on differences between exploration strategies. Women would carry out an exploration of categorical spatial relations. The processes occurring in the right hemisphere of male participants suggest an exploration strategy based on coordinate spatial relations.
...there are other alternatives to the interpretation based on spatial exploration strategies. It is generally accepted that the right parietal cortex is associated with global visual attention and the left with local attention. Perhaps women make use of both global and local features in making their judgments, whereas men only rely on global features.
...Another hypothesis could link the observations to language. Women obtain higher scores on a diversity of verbal and language tasks. Perhaps women are more likely to associate the images with verbal labels than men, producing the lateralizing differences in neural activity.
They feel that:
...hunter-gatherer hypothesis of gender differences in spatial abilities provides the most convincing scenario. Differences in spatial ability between men and women would be associated with the division of labor between the sexes in hunting and gathering.

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