Is moral beauty different from facial beauty? Evidence from an fMRI study

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Is moral beauty different from facial beauty? Two functional magnetic resonance imaging experiments were performed to answer this question. Experiment 1 investigated the network of moral aesthetic judgments and facial aesthetic judgments. Participants performed aesthetic judgments and gender judgments on both faces and scenes containing moral acts. The conjunction analysis of the contrasts ‘facial aesthetic judgment > facial gender judgment’ and ‘scene moral aesthetic judgment > scene gender judgment’ identified the common involvement of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), inferior temporal gyrus and medial superior frontal gyrus, suggesting that both types of aesthetic judgments are based on the orchestration of perceptual, emotional and cognitive components. Experiment 2 examined the network of facial beauty and moral beauty during implicit perception. Participants performed a non-aesthetic judgment task on both faces (beautiful vs common) and scenes (containing morally beautiful vs neutral information). We observed that facial beauty (beautiful faces > common faces) involved both the cortical reward region OFC and the subcortical reward region putamen, whereas moral beauty (moral beauty scenes > moral neutral scenes) only involved the OFC. Moreover, compared with facial beauty, moral beauty spanned a larger-scale cortical network, indicating more advanced and complex cerebral representations characterizing moral beauty.

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