Beauty and orbitofrontal

consciousnessSex, beauty and the orbitofrontal

Alumit Ishai, University of Zurich

International Journal of Psychology, 63, (2007) pp. 181-185

Attention, memory and the emotional system are all modulated by perceiving faces. This activation is distributed across the visual, limbic and prefrontal areas. The extrastriate cortex is involved in identification of individuals; the superior temporal sulcus processes gaze direction and speech-related movements; facial expressions are processed in the insula and the amygdala. The assessment of facial attractiveness is processed by regions in the prefrontal, including the orbitofrontal, and also by the nucleus accumbens. The orbitofrontal and the nucleus accumbens form part of the brain’s reward circuit. The orbitofrontal is known to possess face selective neurons. Patients with some types of orbitofrontal damage cannot identify facial emotions.

The author makes a distinction between the functioning of the visual area on the one hand and some of the prefrontal areas on the other hand; in the visual areas there is no difference between the degree of activation in response to male or female faces; however in the orbitofrontal and the mediodorsal nucleus of the thalamus activation is stronger in response to the gender preference to which the individual subject is orientated.  The response of the reward circuitry is here determined by preference. Thus this is another interesting case, where the level of activation in the orbitofrontal is correlated to the strength of conscious preference rather than the incoming signal to the brain.

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