Evolutionary aesthetics

Evolutionary aesthetics refers to evolutionary psychology theories in which the basic aesthetic preferences of Homo sapiens are argued to have evolved in order to enhance survival and reproductive success.

Based on this theory, things like color preference, preferred mate body ratios, shapes, emotional ties with objects, and many other aspects of the aesthetic experience can be explained with reference to human evolution.

Aesthetics and evolutionary psychology
Many animal and human traits have been argued to have evolved in order to enhance survival and reproductive success. Evolutionary psychology extends this to psychological traits including aesthetical preferences. Such traits are generally seen as being adaptations to the environment during the Pleistocene era and are not necessarily adaptative in our present environment. Examples include disgust of potentially harmful spoiled foods; pleasure from sex and from eating sweet and fatty foods; and fear of spiders, snakes, and the dark.

All known cultures have some form of art. This universality suggests that art is related to evolutionary adaptations. The strong emotions associated with art suggest the same.

Physical attractiveness
Various evolutionary concerns have been argued to influence what is perceived to be physically attractive.

Such evolutionary based preferences are not necessarily static but may vary depending on environmental cues. Thus, availability of food influences which female body size is attractive which may have evolutionary reasons. Societies with food scarcities prefer larger female body size than societies having plenty of food. In Western society males who are hungry prefer a larger female body size than they do when not hungry.

Evolutionary musicology
Evolutionary musicology is a subfield of biomusicology that grounds the psychological mechanisms of music perception and production in evolutionary theory. It covers vocal communication in non-human animal species, theories of the evolution of human music, and cross-cultural human universals in musical ability and processing. It also includes evolutionary explanations for what is considered aesthetically pleasing or not.

Adapting Preferences to Natural Living Conditions
The evolutionary aesthetic assumes that the aesthetic sensibility has adapted to the natural conditions of life. For example, it can be shown that people in all cultures find river landscapes as well as semi-open park landscapes particularly appealing. This, suspected evolutionary psychologists, is a legacy of life in the savannah, where were the early human landscapes of advantage the prospect of food and water, but at the same time offered some protection. The evolutionary biologist Carsten Niemitz turn sees the appeal of waterscapes an indication that water is a central habitat of early human ancestors have been.

Darwinian literary studies
Darwinian Literary Studies (aka Literary Darwinism) is a branch of literary criticism that studies literature, including aesthetical aspects, in the context of evolution.

Evolution of emotion
Aesthetics are tied to emotions. There are several explanations regarding the evolution of emotion.

One example is the emotion disgust which has been argued to have evolved in order to avoid several harmful actions such as infectious diseases due to contact with spoiled foods, feces, and decaying bodies.

Sexual Selection
A second form of adaptation, which plays a role in the evolution of the sense of beauty, is sexual selection, as described by Charles Darwin. In particular, it can be used to justify those aesthetic preferences that play a role in mate choice, such as physical attractiveness. The model of sexual selection can explain a variety of aesthetic preferences.

The sexy son hypothesis suggests that a female optimal choice among potential mates is a male whose genes will produce male offspring with the best chance of reproductive success by having trait(s) being attractive to other females. Sometimes the trait may have no reproductive benefit in itself, apart from attracting females, because of Fisherian runaway. The peacock’s tail may be one example. It has also been seen as an example of the handicap principle.

It has been argued that the ability of the human brain by far exceeds what is needed for survival on the savanna. One explanation could be that the human brain and associated traits (such as artistic ability and creativity) are the equivalent of the peacock’s tail for humans. According to this theory superior execution of art was important because it attracted mates.

Certain features of the face are also considered almost continuously as attractive. According to results of Rhodes (2006) are

Symmetry and
attractive in female and male faces.

Tests on the computer showed that in terms of facial proportions a female average face is perceived as particularly attractive. Facial proportions that correspond exactly to the average of the population, that was the interpretation, signal a high level of health. Later, however, it turned out that there were faces that the test subjects considered to be even more attractive, namely those in which certain proportions – such as the height of the cheekbones or the distance between the chin and the mouth – deviated significantly from the average.

Symmetry is a preferred feature in the face and physique because it has evolved as an indicator of health through sexual selection. Studies have shown that women show a preference for men who can dance well. In a study conducted in Jamaica, it turned out that the bodies of those men whom women like to watch dancing have a greater symmetry.

In female faces, feminine traits (eg, smaller chin, higher cheekbones, fuller lips) are perceived as attractive, with femininity, according to Rhodes, even being a stronger factor than average. Masculine facial features (eg, strong mandible) are also related to attractiveness, with research results being partially contradictory, and Rhodes says the relationship is less pronounced than femininity in female faces. Very feminine traits in female or very masculine features in male faces represent a high sex hormone level (estrogen or testosterone) in the blood of the individual. Some studies have found that faces of men with a high testosterone level are more attractive to women, while other studies have found that men with a high testosterone level of women are more male and dominant but not more attractive, be rated. Faces of women with high levels of estrogen are perceived to be more feminine, attractive, and healthy, according to a 2006 study. Sex hormones have an immunosuppressant effect (The reason for this is the chemical structure: testosterone and estrogen are related to the well-known immunosuppressive drugs cortisone and prednisone). Therefore, very feminine or very masculine facial features according to Rhodes can be a sign of an intact immune system, because only healthy women and men can afford very feminine or very masculine facial features. However, according to Rhodes, there are no meaningful studies on the relationship between averageity, symmetry and sexual dimorphism with health.

Art Theory of Evolutionary Aesthetics
Evolutionary psychologists try to fathom the cognitive prerequisites for the emergence of art as well as the function of early works of art. One starting point is to explain the seemingly coincidental occurrence of different forms of artistic activity. These include the oldest pictorial works of art and sculptures found in the Lonetal valley in the Swabian Alb, some 35,000 to 40,000 years old. From about the same time comes the oldest known musical instruments – flutes of Geißenklösterle. Also, early rock and cave paintings are counted among the early forms of art. It is unclear why early art forms first appeared in this Paleolithic era and what their exact function was. Some anthropologists believe that religious or cultic motives have played a role, but in most cases this can not be proven.

The special thing about these early forms of art is that they have been crafted from the beginning: there are no “experimental phases” in the development of early art, in the sense that older sculptures, for example, still have technical defects. From the point of view of Steven Mithen, this shows that the craftsmanship skills already existed before the creation of the first works of art. Thus, the ability to make an object out of the visual imagination was the precondition for the production of hand axes centuries before, In contrast to workpieces such as the hand-axes, the works of art are characterized by further features: they refer to something remote (such as animals in the wilderness) and obviously have some symbolic meaning. This symbolic meaning becomes clear from the fact that many representations are much more detailed than would be necessary for practical purposes and that many representations are not lifelike representations of objects, but are stylistically modified or representations of unnatural beings acts like the lion man of Hohlenstein-Stadel or paintings in the French cave Chauvetshowing a hybrid of human and bison.

Thus one of the prerequisites for art is seen as the capacity for symbolic thinking, which apparently evolved only in Homo sapiens. The origins of symbolic thought are attributed by some early historians to the fact that Homo sapiens was able to combine different cognitive abilities.

Theories about the social function of early works of art contain the same methodological difficulties as the above-mentioned theories about the roots of beauty. There are no sources that could provide information about the primitive “motives” of Stone Age man.

Landscape and other visual arts preferences
An important choice for a mobile organism is selecting a good habitat to live in. Humans are argued to have strong aesthetical preferences for landscapes which were good habitats in the ancestral environment. When young human children from different nations are asked to select which landscape they prefer, from a selection of standardized landscape photographs, there is a strong preference for savannas with trees. The East African savanna is the ancestral environment in which much of human evolution is argued to have taken place. There is also a preference for landscapes with water, with both open and wooded areas, with trees with branches at a suitable height for climbing and taking foods, with features encouraging exploration such as a path or river curving out of view, with seen or implied game animals, and with some clouds. These are all features that are often featured in calendar art and in the design of public parks.

A survey of art preferences in many different nations found that realistic painting was preferred. Favorite features were water, trees as well as other plants, humans (in particular beautiful women, children, and well-known historical figures), and animals (in particular both wild and domestic large animals). Blue, followed by green, was the favorite color. Using the survey, the study authors constructed a painting showing the preferences of each nation. Despite the many different cultures, the paintings all showed a strong similarity to landscape calendar art. The authors argued that this similarity was in fact due to the influence of the Western calendar industry. Another explanation is that these features are those evolutionary psychology predicts should be popular for evolutionary reasons.

Difficulties and criticism
As with other model concepts of evolutionary psychology, a key difficulty is that many of the theses are at best plausibility, but can hardly be reconstructed comprehensible.

Another difficulty is to distinguish evolutionary aesthetic preferences from culturally influenced ones. An evolutionary background would mean that the respective aesthetic preferences are universals, so they can be observed in people of all cultures. However, this is only detectable in individual cases. Gábor Paál calls these types of preferences “elementary aesthetic”.

In addition, evolutionary aesthetics can not explain how in a relatively short space of time fundamental changes in aesthetic preferences occurred, for example, that in the eighteenth century mountains, the sight of which had previously been avoided, were now sought for their aesthetic qualities – a change for which Culturalist approaches are able to offer plausible explanations.

The attempt to explain concrete ideals of beauty evolutionarily, usually involves the equation of beauty with biological ” attractiveness ” or of beauty with “pleasure” feeling. Paál points out, however, that the biological response to an attractive stimulus usually runs unconsciously, while an aesthetic judgment is a comparative-weighing, so mental decision. Meanwhile multiply the information from neuroscience that are active in the sex drive other processes in the brain than in the conscious aesthetic judgment whether an object is beautiful or not. It also shows that processes of biological attractiveness tend to involve areas of the limbic system, whereas esthetic judgments are mainly made in the cerebral cortex.

Source from Wikipedia