Your brain over art: Enhancing neuropsychological skills

Your brain over art: Enhancing neuropsychological skills

How art stimulates your brain to make it better.

An art enthusiast at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Source: Thomas M. Mueller Photograph with permission

Collectors collect art, which, in turn, serves as a powerful catalyst for improving brain function and mental health. Here, I explore the mechanisms underlying this process, supported by academic research and hypothetical frameworks.

First, interpreting visual art requires the brain to analyze complex visual stimuli, recognize patterns, and decipher concepts. This examination can strengthen observational and analytical thinking skills (Zeki, 1999). Further, viewing art can improve critical thinking (Bolwerk et al., 2014). Neuroimaging studies also support this type of cognitive engagement. They reveal increased activity in brain areas associated with visual processing and interpretation when individuals are exposed to art (Kawabata and Zeki, 2004).

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Second, since art conveys emotion, it has the ability to heighten empathy. Rezaei etc. (2023) recently reported that art education increases empathy among medical students. Confirmatory evidence was also demonstrated earlier. Mangione et al. (2018) found that medical students’ exposure to the arts “empirically confirms what many have intuitively suspected for years: exposure to the humanities is associated with important personal qualities (tolerance of ambiguity, sensitivity, and wisdom) and prevention of burning”.

Third, viewing art can reduce stress and induce feelings of relaxation. Ulrich et al. (1991) reported that exposure to aesthetically pleasing visual art decreased cortisol, an important stress hormone. At the same time, brain activity is expected to shift from stress-prone regions to those associated with pleasure and relaxation.

Fourth, memory can also improve when you engage in art. Recalling historical context, personal experiences, or specific details about a work of art exercises the brain’s memory functions. Bone et al. (2023) found that receptive art (viewing art as opposed to participating in it) can improve memory. This will involve brain regions such as the hippocampus, which is critical for memory processing.

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Finally, art appreciation often occurs within social contexts, such as collectors’ homes, museums, and galleries. In these places, discussions about art can improve communication skills and foster social connections (Perkins et al., 2021). Thus, the shared experience of art can facilitate deeper understanding and communication between individuals participating in art appreciation. This highlights the social benefits of art.

Briefing

In conclusion, art appreciation extends beyond aesthetic pleasure, significantly influencing brain function and mental health. Through cognitive enhancement, stress reduction, improved memory and social connection, art appreciation is emerging as a valuable tool for promoting mental well-being and cognitive resilience. The body of academic research supporting these benefits underscores its importance to collectors when they collect art and how necessary it is to integrate art and cultural experiences into everyday life and educational curricula to harness these positive outcomes.

References

Zeki, S. (1999). Inner vision: An exploration of art and the brain. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Bolwerk, A., Mack-Andrick, J., Lang, FR, Dörfler, A., & Maihöfner, C. (2014). How art changes your brain: Differential effects of visual art production and cognitive art appreciation on functional brain connectivity. PLOS ONE9 (7), e101035.

Kawabata, H., & Zeki, S. (2004). Neural correlates of beauty. Journal of Neurophysiology91 (4), 1699-1705.

Rezaei, S., Childress, A., Kaul, B., Rosales, KM, Newell, A., & Rose, S. (2023). Using visual arts education and reflective practice to enhance empathy and perspective-taking in medical students. MedEdPORTAL: The Journal of Teaching and Learning Resources, 19. https://doi.org/10.15766/mep_2374-8265.11346

Ulrich, RS, Simons, RF, Losito, BD, Fiorito, E., Miles, MA, & Zelson, M. (1991). Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 11(3), 201-230. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0272-4944(05)80184-7

Jessica K. Bone, Daisy Fancourt, Jill K. Sonke & Feifei Bu (2023) Participatory and receptive arts engagement in older adults: Associations with cognition over a seven-year period, Journal of Creativity Research, DOI: 10.1080/10220 .

Perkins, R., Mason-Bertrand, A., Tymoszuk, U . et al. (2021) Arts engagement supports social connectedness in adulthood: findings from the HEartS Survey. BMC Public Health 21, 1208. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-11233-6

Mangione, S., Chakraborti, C., Staltari, G. et al. Medical student exposure to the humanities is associated with positive personal qualities and reduced burnout: A US multi-institutional survey. J GENERAL INTERNAL ME 33, 628–634 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-017-4275-8

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