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Overview of the Day
Darwinian aesthetics
Adaptations of aesthetics
What do we mean by “aesthetics”
The study of beauty (and ugliness), good
(and bad) form and design
What is “beauty”?
What makes something beautiful?
Are there universal aesthetics principles or is beauty
in the eye of the beholder?
Does beauty equal truth?
What can evolutionary psychology tell us about
Darwinian Aesthetics
 “Beauty experiences are unconsciously realized avenues
to high fitness in human evolutionary history…The
Darwinian theory of human aesthetic value is that
beauty is promise of function in the environments in
which humans evolved (i.e., of high likelihood of survival
and reproductive success in the environments of human
evolutionary history).” [Thornhill 1998, p. 544]
 Part of scientific aesthetics
 Other approaches to aesthetics
philosophy, literature, art: may use other ideas
about the meaning and principles of beauty (e.g.,
personal introspection)
Adaptations and the evolutionary
psychology of beauty
 Remember: adaptations
Biological features that serve a specific purpose. That were
sculpted by natural selection in response to environmental
conditions (problems), and they ultimately contributed to survival
and reproduction.
 How might adaptations influence our sense of beauty?
What we find beautiful
Strong feelings (attraction or disgust)
Non-random variation in aesthetic preferences
Neurocharms: specialized aesthetic judgment
adaptations that influence pleasure when viewing
There are probably many neurocharms that
specifically affect our aesthetic perceptions of
different objects
“Beauty is the moving experience
associated with information processing by
aesthetic judgment adaptations when
they perceive information of evolutionarily
historical promise of high reproductive
success.” [Thornhill, 1998, p. 557]
Art reflects cues to utility in our
evolutionary history
Strong feelings
Aesthetic judgments often involve strong
Beauty-->strong feelings-->fantasy
Mystery-->beauty-->desire for more
Variability in aesthetic
Variability is expected, but non-random
For example, who is likely to view small
enclosures as attractive?
Those who feel vulnerable (small children,
the elderly, people who are depressed)
How about open spaces?
Why do women, more so than men, seem
to perceive flowers as beautiful?
Some adaptations of
aesthetics (1)
Landscape features (savanna, ripe fruits,
flowers, mountains, clear, flowing water,
healthy savanna trees)
Self-similarity over different scales of
Non-human animals (cuddly, furry
creatures; neotonous features)
Day-night and seasonal change
Some adaptations of
aesthetics (2)
Human attractiveness
physical beauty
adornment (teenagers??)
Status cues
Social scenarios
romance novels
 male-male competition
Some adaptations of
aesthetics (3)
 Skill displays
cues to what was most evolutionary related to
phenotypic quality
status of athletics vs academics in high schools
 Food
fat, sugar, salt
visual appeal
 Ideas
scientific discoveries and beauty
ideas and group acceptance
Some adaptations of
aesthetics (4)
What about music?
music appreciation is universal
adaptation for music (or skill, status,
how can being moved by heavy metal or
some alternative rock music be related to an
Darwinian aesthetics
Adaptations of aesthetics