Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics

Welcome to the PCfN

/ˌnu̇r-ō-es-ˈthe-tiks/ n.

A subdiscipline of cognitive neuroscience concerned with the neural basis of aesthetic experiences, which involve interactions with entities and events that evoke intense feelings, often of pleasure.


Original image from the Chicago Face Database

Beauty and morality

Our brains respond automatically to beauty, and these automatic responses have downstream consequences in our attitudes, biases, and behavior.

Current projects →

Images by Vince Fleming, Ryoji Iwata, Christian Fregnan, and Jp Valery

The built environment and wellness

Most people in the developed world spend more than 90% of their time in built environments. We're investigating how these environments affect our sense of well-being and can either promote or interfere with human flourishing.

Current projects →

Images by Christian Fregnan, ian dooley, Stijn te Strake, and Václav Pluhař

Engagement with art

Humans have a decorative impulse, as evidenced by the aesthetic care taken in crafting objects and artifacts throughout human history. We're interested in understanding the nature of engagement with the arts—the paradox that seemingly non-utilitarian features of objects have such a persistent grip on us.

Current projects →


Image by Sergei Akulich

Image by Sergei Akulich


The aim of neuroaesthetics is to understand neural systems that underlie aesthetic experiences and choices. This includes investigating the nature and neural basis of beauty, art, design, and architecture.

  • Is there a common neural currency to beauty across different domains—e.g., bodies, nature, objects, spaces?
  • How is the pleasure derived from art different from primary pleasures such as pleasure in food or sex?
  • What distinguishes utilitarian from non-utilitarian choices?
  • What are aesthetic emotions?
  • How do negative emotions give rise to pleasure in aesthetic contexts?
  • How does beauty influence moral decision making?
  • What are the temporal dimensions of aesthetic experiences?
  • How does context and education affect aesthetic experiences?
Image by Christopher Burns

Image by Christopher Burns


Neuroaesthetics applications are relevant to medicine and beyond into domains of society and culture.

  • How might aesthetic experiences be used therapeutically?
  • How might an understanding of psychological and neural responses to constructed spaces contribute to architectural design?
  • How does engagement with aesthetics and the arts contribute to well-being?
  • How does aesthetics influence product design and marketing?
  • How can aesthetics facilitate learning?

Learn more about the PCfN!