Visual and Sensorimotor Contributions to the Esthetic Appraisal of Body Form, Motion, and Emotion

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Recent neuroscience studies indicate that the visual processing of human bodies relies on a cortical network comprising different sensorimotor regions (extrastriate body area [EBA], superior temporal sulcus [STS], parietal cortex [PC], and premotor cortex [PM]). These regions seem to be specifically involved in the processing of morphological (form) and dynamic (movement) cues of the body. Importantly, the integrated activity within the network dedicated to body processing seems to underpin the unified perception of the body and its movements via simulation-like mechanisms (“cold embodiment”). Studies also suggest that regions within the body-related network are involved in the esthetic appreciation of human bodies together with a variety of cortical and subcortical regions associated to the emotional reward coding of stimuli (e.g., the amygdala for fear/disgust and the nucleus accumbens, the insula, and the cingulate cortex for pleasure reward), which may drive a form of “hot embodiment.” Thus, the esthetic evaluation of human bodies may rely upon a large cortico-subcortical network. Here we review evidence concerning the role of specific sensorimotor cortical and subcortical regions in the perception of beauty and attractiveness of the body. We conclude that exploring the way in which visual, sensorimotor, affective, and multisensory information in art and ecological life in general perturb our body representations is crucial for understanding the neural foundations of esthetic body appreciation.

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