Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 13 February 2014 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00068

The experience of mathematical beauty and its neural correlates

Semir Zeki1*, John Paul Romaya1, Dionigi M. T. Benincasa2 and Michael F. Atiyah3
  • 1Wellcome Laboratory of Neurobiology, University College London, London, UK
  • 2Department of Physics, Imperial College London, London, UK
  • 3School of Mathematics, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

Many have written of the experience of mathematical beauty as being comparable to that derived from the greatest art. This makes it interesting to learn whether the experience of beauty derived from such a highly intellectual and abstract source as mathematics correlates with activity in the same part of the emotional brain as that derived from more sensory, perceptually based, sources. To determine this, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to image the activity in the brains of 15 mathematicians when they viewed mathematical formulae which they had individually rated as beautiful, indifferent or ugly. Results showed that the experience of mathematical beauty correlates parametrically with activity in the same part of the emotional brain, namely field A1 of the medial orbito-frontal cortex (mOFC), as the experience of beauty derived from other sources.

Keywords: mathematics, neuroesthetics, fMRI, beauty, mofc

Citation: Zeki S, Romaya JP, Benincasa DMT and Atiyah MF (2014) The experience of mathematical beauty and its neural correlates. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 8:68. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00068

Received: 11 November 2013; Accepted: 28 January 2014;
Published online: 13 February 2014.

Edited by:

Josef Parvizi, Stanford University, USA

Reviewed by:

Miriam Rosenberg-Lee, Stanford University, USA
Marie Arsalidou, The Hospital for Sick Children, Canada

Copyright © 2014 Zeki, Romaya, Benincasa and Atiyah. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Semir Zeki, Wellcome Department of Neurobiology, University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT, UK e-mail: s.zeki@ucl.ac.uk

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