Contrary to the common conception that the arts is just for plain aesthetics, it does more than serve the visual. In fact, numerous studies have proven the positive effects of art—looking at it and even making it, to our brain and overall mental health. Did you know that our brains are originally hardwired to process art? Some parts of the brain that are associated with contemplation are automatically sparked when viewing art, even if they aren’t thinking about it critically. So, whether you like it or not, your brain is activated whenever you see one!
You may be surprised to know that our brains are programed to consider looking at art a reward. This is according to the findings of one study that explored the movements and state of the brain whilst exposed to art. Viewing the works of famous painters like Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh and other artists more strongly activates the brain’s “reward system” compared to the brain activity that happens when looking at photographs of similar subjects, according to the researchers at Emory University School of Medicine.
Four male volunteers and four females were asked to view paintings made by famous and unknown artists and photographs with the same subject as of the paintings. Imaging technology revealed that when an individual viewed a painting, the ventral striatum (part of the reward system) was more strongly activated, compared to just looking at the photograph version.
The results reveal that not only did art viewing stimulate the ventral striatum, but it also activated the hypothalamus which is the part of the brain that is associated with appetite regulation and the orbitofrontal cortex, which is responsible with calculating risk, impulse control and detection of social rules.
Contrary to popular belief, creative thinking does not mean using the right side of your brain.
It involves getting both hemispheres of your brain communicating with each other. This is according to Dr. Lawrence Katz, an internationally recognized pioneer in neuron regeneration research. Art enhances problem-solving skills.
A study proved that field trips to art galleries and museums improve the critical thinking skills of students and children. This means that the greater exposure they have to works of art, the higher the rates of brain development is possible. Art also improves the attention to details ability of the brain.
Scientifically speaking, being in love is characterized by increased blood flow and faster heart beat. The brain releases hormones that makes you feel happy. Well, art can give that similar effects on you.
Some artworks, as perceived most beautiful by participants, increased blood flow in a certain part of the brain by as much as 10 per cent – the equivalent to gazing at a loved one. These are paintings by John Constable, Ingres, the French neoclassical painter, and Guido Reni, the 17th century Italian artist, produced the most powerful ‘pleasure’ response in those taking part in the experiment.
“The reaction was immediate. What we found was the increase in blood flow was in proportion to how much the painting was liked. The blood flow increased for a beautiful painting just as it increases when you look at somebody you love. It tells us art induces a feel good sensation direct to the brain,” says Professor Semir Zeki, chair of neuroaesthetics at University College London and the one who conducted the experiment.
Art can decrease stress levels. This is proven by a study conducted by researchers from the University of Westminster. After a lunchtime visit to an art gallery, participants self-reported their stress levels before entering the gallery and then spent 35 minutes exploring the space in any way they wanted. Upon exiting, they expressed being less stressed. Furthermore, they also had lower concentrations of cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone.
Our brain gets excited whenever it is exposed to art. In fact, art therapy is considered one of the possible ways of helping patients with mental illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, since drug treatment for dementia symptoms is generally not very successful.