Faith A. Pak in the Harvard Crimson:
Aesthetics is a topic traditionally claimed by the humanities, especially by philosophy and art history. “It’s just one of those questions that science has shied away from, because it didn’t seem answerable or even definable,” Etcoff said. But with the innovations of technology in recent decades, such as fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), that can give a concrete picture of what is going on in the brain, scientists are increasingly able to peer into realms of the human experience that were once thought to be totally abstract and intangible.
“The question of beauty is something that science has shied away from,” Etcoff said. “It didn’t seem answerable or definable. Happiness is another one. There are a lot of books on negative emotions like disgust, fear, anger.” But Etcoff is interested in expanding the scope of science to the pleasures in life, like the appreciation of art and beauty, and positive emotions like happiness, calm, gratitude, awe, relief. As the director of the Program in Aesthetics and Well-Being at Massachusetts General Hospital, she is working to create more beautiful hospital spaces to aid patients in recovery. She also teaches the science of happiness in a freshman seminar.