Neuroaesthetics: How Art Affects Your Brain and Wellbeing

Key points

  • Neuroaesthetics is a field of science that combines neuroscience, psychology, and aesthetics to study how art affects our brain and wellbeing.
  • Art engages various brain regions and networks that are involved in sensory processing, cognitive functions, reward mechanisms, and emotional responses.
  • Art can have various positive effects on our physical, mental, and social health, such as reducing stress and anxiety, improving mood and self-esteem, enhancing creativity and problem-solving, and promoting social connection and empathy.
  • You can use neuroaesthetics to enrich your life by choosing art that suits your needs and preferences, creating art that expresses your feelings and thoughts, and sharing art that connects you with others.

Have you ever wondered why some artworks make you feel happy, calm, or inspired, while others leave you indifferent, bored, or even disgusted? What is it about art that can evoke such powerful emotions and reactions in us? And how does art affect our brain and wellbeing?

These are some of the questions that neuroaesthetics tries to answer. Neuroaesthetics is a relatively new field of science that combines neuroscience, psychology, and aesthetics to study how we perceive, produce, and respond to art, as well as how art influences our body, brain, and behavior1.

In this article, we will explore some of the main findings and applications of neuroaesthetics, and how you can use this knowledge to enhance your own creativity and wellbeing.

What is neuroaesthetics?

Neuroaesthetics emerged in the late 1990s as a sub-discipline of empirical aesthetics, which is the scientific study of aesthetic experience2. The term was coined by the neuroscientist Semir Zeki, who pioneered the research on the neural basis of visual art.

Neuroaesthetics aims to understand how art affects our brain and nervous system, and how this in turn influences our emotions, cognition, and behavior. Neuroaesthetics also investigates how different factors, such as culture, personality, mood, and context, can modulate our aesthetic preferences and judgments.

Neuroaesthetics uses various methods and tools to measure the neural and physiological responses to art, such as brain imaging techniques (e.g., fMRI, EEG), eye tracking, skin conductance, heart rate variability, facial expressions, and behavioral tests4.

Neuroaesthetics is an interdisciplinary field that draws from various disciplines, such as art history, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, biology, medicine, education, and computer science. Neuroaesthetics also has practical implications for various domains, such as health care, education, design, entertainment, and marketing.

How does art affect our brain?

Art is a complex phenomenon that involves multiple sensory modalities (e.g., vision, hearing), cognitive processes (e.g., attention, memory), and emotional responses (e.g., pleasure, disgust). Therefore, art engages various brain regions and networks that are involved in these functions.

Some of the main brain regions that are activated by art are:

  • The visual cortex: This is the part of the brain that processes visual information. Different types of visual art (e.g., realistic, abstract) can activate different areas of the visual cortex. For instance, realistic paintings tend to activate the ventral stream of the visual cortex (which is involved in object recognition), while abstract paintings tend to activate the dorsal stream (which is involved in spatial perception).
  • The auditory cortex: This is the part of the brain that processes auditory information. Music can activate different areas of the auditory cortex depending on its features (e.g., pitch, rhythm). Music can also activate other brain regions that are involved in language processing (e.g., Broca’s area), memory (e.g., hippocampus), emotion (e.g., amygdala), and motor control (e.g., cerebellum).
  • The reward system: This is a network of brain regions that are involved in motivation, pleasure, and learning. The reward system includes the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the nucleus accumbens (NAc), and the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). These regions release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that signals reward and reinforces behavior. Art can activate the reward system by stimulating our curiosity, surprise, and aesthetic appreciation.
  • The emotional system: This is a network of brain regions that are involved in generating, regulating, and expressing emotions. The emotional system includes the amygdala, the insula, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and the prefrontal cortex (PFC). These regions process various aspects of emotions, such as valence (positive or negative), arousal (high or low), and appraisal (meaning and significance). Art can activate the emotional system by eliciting different types of emotions, such as joy, sadness, anger, fear, or disgust. Art can also modulate our emotional state, depending on our mood, personality, and preferences.

How does art affect our wellbeing?

Art is not only a source of aesthetic pleasure and cognitive stimulation, but also a powerful tool for enhancing our wellbeing. Art can have various positive effects on our physical, mental, and social health, such as:

  • Reducing stress and anxiety: Art can help us cope with stress and anxiety by providing a distraction, a relaxation, or a catharsis. Art can also help us express and regulate our emotions, which can reduce the negative impact of stress on our body and mind.
  • Improving mood and self-esteem: Art can boost our mood and self-esteem by stimulating the reward system, increasing positive emotions, and enhancing self-efficacy. Art can also help us develop a positive self-image and identity, as well as a sense of meaning and purpose.
  • Enhancing creativity and problem-solving: Art can foster our creativity and problem-solving skills by stimulating the brain’s plasticity, flexibility, and divergent thinking. Art can also help us overcome mental blocks, generate novel ideas, and find new solutions to challenges.
  • Promoting social connection and empathy: Art can facilitate social connection and empathy by creating a shared experience, a common language, and a mutual understanding. Art can also help us appreciate different perspectives, cultures, and values, as well as develop compassion and altruism.

How to apply neuroaesthetics to your life?

Neuroaesthetics offers valuable insights into how art influences our brain and wellbeing. You can use this knowledge to enrich your life in various ways, such as:

  • Choosing art that suits your needs and preferences: You can select art that matches your mood, personality, and goals. For example, if you want to relax, you can choose soothing music or calming colors; if you want to energize, you can choose upbeat music or bright colors; if you want to learn, you can choose challenging art or complex patterns.
  • Creating art that expresses your feelings and thoughts: You can engage in artistic activities that allow you to express your feelings and thoughts. For example, you can write a poem or a story, draw a picture or a diagram, sing a song or a rap, dance or act out a scene. Creating art can help you release your emotions, clarify your thoughts, and discover new aspects of yourself.
  • Sharing art that connects you with others: You can share art that connects you with others who have similar or different interests, experiences, and opinions. For example, you can join an online or offline community of artists or art lovers, attend an exhibition or a concert, participate in a workshop or a class, or start a conversation or a debate. Sharing art can help you build relationships, exchange ideas, and expand your horizons.

Conclusion

Neuroaesthetics is an exciting field that reveals how art affects our brain and wellbeing.

Art is not only a form of entertainment or decoration, but also a powerful stimulus for our senses, cognition, and emotions.

Art can also have various benefits for our health, creativity, and sociality.

By understanding how art works on us, we can use it more effectively to enhance our lives.

FAQs

What is neuroaesthetics?

  • Neuroaesthetics is a field of science that studies how we perceive, produce, and respond to art, as well as how art influences our body, brain, and behavior.

How does art affect our brain?

  • Art affects various brain regions and networks that are involved in sensory processing, cognitive functions, reward mechanisms, and emotional responses.

How does art affect our wellbeing?

  • Art affects our wellbeing by reducing stress and anxiety, improving mood and self-esteem, enhancing creativity and problem-solving, and promoting social connection and empathy.

How to apply neuroaesthetics to your life?

  • You can apply neuroaesthetics to your life by choosing art that suits your needs and preferences, creating art that expresses your feelings and thoughts, and sharing art that connects you with others.

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