“The mechanism that makes us look beautiful is the same mechanism that makes us survive as a species.”

“The mechanism that makes us look beautiful is the same mechanism that makes us survive as a species.”

PalmaMarcos Nadal does not consider himself a beauty specialist, although he has devoted himself for years to trying to answer the question of why our brain decides that it likes one thing and does not like another. This psychologist and researcher from the Human Evolution and Cognition Group at the University of the Balearic Islands is fascinated and fascinated by the fact that people’s basic biological survival system, such as the ability to identify things that are attractive and suitable for us, exists. The same mechanism that allows us to connect with works of art, music, architecture, and natural beauty.

We spoke to him during a break from the conference that brings together nearly two hundred specialists in neuroaesthetics and experimental aesthetics in Palma. They thought, for example, about how music allows for the management of emotions, but also about the practical application of current research in fields such as consumption or architecture. “Right now, there are colleagues who specialize in researching how crispy french fries are so crisp you can’t stop eating them until you finish the bag, but there are also others studying how architecture affects our mood,” Nadal explains. It tries, for example, to find out why we want to enter a building; how to create spaces in hospitals that help patients get better more quickly; And what work and study spaces should look like to promote collaboration and learning.

The middle point

Nadal points out that our brains are biologically programmed to focus on important things in the world. “Other human beings are one of the most important things our mind can see,” he says. Thus, it constantly picks up faces and gradually creates a blueprint of what an attractive face means. In such a complex world, the brain must quickly sort out those things that are important for survival, but it must also anticipate what might happen and prepare to respond to it. It is a basic learning mechanism that allows us to avoid problems and threats and motivates us to go and search where there will be things useful for the individual and the group. “All the tools needed to appreciate beauty and facial attractiveness are built on this basic survival mechanism. The basic machines used to make something that has artistic and cultural value, which is important to our sight; seeing ourselves attractive in the mirror; or feeling comfortable at home: all of this is part of the basic survival mechanism that All organisms with a brain have it,” says Nadal.

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There is no objective beauty

The brain adapts to all kinds of conditions and learns. A good example of this is facial distortions, to which adults react negatively, while young children do not have this reaction. “It’s something you learn,” Nadal says. For this reason, although art or design schools tend to talk about rules, standards and combinations that might be aesthetically correct (“beautiful”), the reality is that you cannot talk about a fixed rule.

To illustrate this, he gives us the example of an artist he admires, Marcel Duchamp, who placed a toilet bowl in an art gallery because he could not think of anything less aesthetic. One critic wrote that the artist reminds us that beauty exists anywhere. “The critic can see the beauty in the urinal by highlighting its curves, the luminous white of porcelain, because what happens is that the fact that you like or dislike what you see is the result of the meeting of the thing with its objective forms and what you bring from your past experience, but also what you expect, what you think In this thing or person.

Nadal points out that Paul Newman or Angelina Jolie are not objectively beautiful, but subjectively beautiful. “We attribute to them characteristics that relate, in the case of actors or actresses, to the characters they play. It has happened to all of us. You see someone who seems very beautiful to you and at that moment you fall madly in love with him, and then you meet him, he turns out to be an idiot and you begin to find him less attractive and even “Ugly.”

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In the age of “Tik Tok” and “Instagram,” the psychologist warns that, unlike forty years ago, when “you had models from your environment – with few differences – to build an idea of ​​what it means to be attractive, now the models are more numerous and more numerous.” Very versatile and fleeting. “It can be more extreme, in the sense that it is not natural, but it is filtered. People see themselves in the mirror, and the need to reach the model they have created in their minds is much greater.


Industry and the market recognize the importance of knowing the brain mechanisms that determine the perception of objects. They often rely on scientific studies to determine how to design a website, the size and shape of the button to click to buy, and the most appropriate colors to convey a feeling of security and quality to their target audience. This, according to Nadal, should not make us more suspicious, but we should benefit from it to be more informed.

It has been studied that attractive people have easier access to a job, that prettier kids get better grades, and even attractive people get lighter punishments. “We’re talking about professional environments. They don’t do it intentionally, it’s subconscious,” explains Nadal, who points out that “neuroaesthetics provides information that helps not to fall into attractiveness biases.”

It should be noted that this specialty also works to increase the well-being of people in designing cities. “The problem is that there is no planning or it is done in the short term. What does the evidence tell us? People are at their best in a city that is active and dynamic but also manageable. When it becomes difficult for you to even drive down the street, it causes discomfort and you stop.” About enjoying living in these places.” Nadal explains that in many cities they are already designing spaces where citizens can find a comfortable balance. “The cities where people feel best are the ones that don’t turn their backs on their users, on the people who live there. People enjoy a city that they feel is not just decorative, but was designed with them in mind.”

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