Newswise — PHILADELPHIA—When two people look at the Mona Lisa or a Jackson Pollock painting, they could form completely different conclusions. What makes them either enjoy or dislike the art comes down to neuroaesthetics—the biological study aiming to understand how humans process beauty and art.

Penn Medicine has launched the Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics, which aims to uncover the biological basis of aesthetics. The center, led by Anjan Chatterjee, MD, chair of the department of Neurology at Pennsylvania Hospital and the Elliott Professor of Neurology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, will advance the understanding of human nature and preferences with consumer choices, the principles of design, and the appreciation and production of art. The center assembles an interdisciplinary, university-wide team of experts in neuroscience, psychology, business, architecture, and the arts.  

“Even though aesthetics affects countless decisions—from what you wear in the morning to who you date—little of the psychological and neural underpinnings of aesthetics are known. People’s aesthetic choices makes them feel better and affects how others treat them,” Chatterjee said. “This center allows us to bring together, build upon, and advance knowledge of the mysterious world of aesthetic experiences. Our goal is to evolve basic and translational research, educate the next generation of scholars, and serve as a hub for creative experts interested in the nature and neural basis of beauty, art, and architecture.”

The research center will focus on three programmatic elements: basic science, translational science, and communication. Experts across Penn will investigate the neural systems that underlie aesthetic experiences and choices, answering provocative questions dealing with how the pleasure of beauty differs from primary pleasures like food, whether beauty affects values such as morality, and how context and education affects aesthetic experiences. For instance, is there a common neural currency to beauty? The center will also look into the applications of neuroaesthetics to medicine and culture, uncovering how aesthetic experiences can be used therapeutically—for example, would exposure to art and aesthetics enhance medical student training? Additionally, the center has a goal to expand its hub of specialists to host scholars in the humanities and artists in residence. 

“Penn has extraordinary strengths that make it the right place for such an innovative center,” said Frances E. Jensen, MD, FACP, chair, department of Neurology. “Beyond the rich research environment, our strengths in cognitive neuroscience and academics set us apart. These are early days in the discipline of neuroaesthetics and this new center will shape the field for years to come.”


Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $7.8 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report’s survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation’s top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $405 million awarded in the 2017 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center — which are recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report — Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Medicine Princeton Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital – the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, a leading provider of highly skilled and compassionate behavioral healthcare.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2017, Penn Medicine provided $500 million to benefit our community.