• Meghan McCarthy

Psychological and Physiological Benefits of Art

Art cultivates both psychological and physiological benefits for your body. Whether you need focus, a small pick me up, or relaxation, art fits the bill.




Here’s how:

MOOD: When you look at or create art, chances you are will feel happier. Neurologically, this is caused by the activation of your reward circuit. Since it releases ‘happy hormones,’ art will improve your mood. Your mood isn’t the only psychological benefit. Art also significantly decreases stress levels for viewers and creators.


STRESS: Cortisol is a hormone regulated by the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPA). This axis describes the relationship between the hypothalamus and pituitary gland (areas in the brain) with the adrenal gland (area in the kidneys)⁶. After 10 seconds of stress, the body activates HPA.


When you sweat, have a sudden burst of energy, or even feel your heart pounding, it’s because of HPA⁶. Part of this response is the release of cortisol into the blood. Because of this, cortisol is considered a biomarker for stress. If you have high levels of cortisol, your body recently went through high stress.

Recent studies found that 75% of those engaged in artistic activity had significant decreases in salivary cortisol, indicating art decreases stress⁶.


EMOTIONAL CONTROL: Because art activates the brain’s default mode network, it increases emotional control. This intracortical grouping is associated with regulating self identity and awareness, imagination, and compassion⁷. Art strengthens this network. In turn, an individual is more resilient, they can control their emotional response⁷.


BLOOD FLOW: Lastly, viewing or producing art can increase blood flow in the brain by 10%⁴.

A recent study used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRs) to measure brain oxygenation, or the amount of oxygen cells receive due to blood flow¹³. The fNIR imaging showed increased blood flow in the prefrontal cortex⁵.

Why does blood flow matter? Blood flow is crucial in delivering brain cells the oxygen and nutrients they need to thrive. Circulation carries away harmful toxins, boosts neurotransmitter activity, and hydrates your brain¹⁴.

If your brain is under oxygenated, you’ll feel it. Without proper blood flow, you may feel¹⁴:

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Headaches

  • Memory loss (blood flow is associated with dementia, a chronic memory loss disease)

  • Cold hands and feet


To put it in perspective, if you were to make your brain’s blood vessels linear, they would be over 400 miles long¹⁵. That is a lot of ground to cover, and art helps the process.

Put it into Practice:

You don’t have to be the next Picasso to benefit from art. If you want to boost your creativity in conventional ways, start small. Try painting abstracts, drawing simple shapes, and using a small color palette¹⁶. You can also sketch patterns or take notes in different colors.


Again, viewing art is still extremely beneficial. Incorporate art into presentations, visit art museums, and google visuals when learning.

Your brain is an artist. It’s up to you to channel it.




Endnotes:

  1. Jacolbe, Jessica. “Art Is Good for Your Brain.” JSTOR Daily, JSTOR, 29 June 2019, daily.jstor.org/art-is-good-for-your-brain/.

  2. Zaidel D. W. (2014). Creativity, brain, and art: biological and neurological considerations. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 8, 389. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00389

  3. “Dopamine Receptors in the Human Brain.” Psychiatric Times, www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/dopamine-receptors-human-brain.

  4. Phillips, Renee, et al. “Home.” The Healing Power of ART ARTISTS, www.healing-power-of-art.org/art-and-the-brain/.

  5. Girija Kaimal, Hasan Ayaz, Joanna Herres, Rebekka Dieterich-Hartwell, Bindal Makwana, Donna H. Kaiser, Jennifer A. Nasser. Functional near-infrared spectroscopy assessment of reward perception based on visual self-expression: Coloring, doodling, and free drawing. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 2017; 55: 85 DOI: 10.1016/j.aip.2017.05.004

  6. Neurosci. (2014, June 04). Know your brain: HPA axis. Retrieved July 01, 2020, from https://www.neuroscientificallychallenged.com/blog/2014/5/31/what-is-the-hpa-axis

  7. Bolwerk, A., Mack-Andrick, J., Lang, F. R., Dörfler, A., & Maihöfner, C. (2014). How art changes your brain: differential effects of visual art production and cognitive art evaluation on functional brain connectivity. PloS one, 9(7), e101035. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0101035

  8. Mastandrea S, Fagioli S and Biasi V (2019) Art and Psychological Well-Being: Linking the Brain to the Aesthetic Emotion. Front. Psychol. 10:739. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00739

  9. N. (2015, May 13). Know your brain: Orbitofrontal cortex. Neuroscientifically Challenged. https://www.neuroscientificallychallenged.com/blog/know-your-brain-orbitofrontal-cortex

  10. Magsamen S. (2019). Your Brain on Art: The Case for Neuroaesthetics. Cerebrum : the Dana forum on brain science, 2019, cer-07–19.

  11. Brady, R., & Auslen, L. (2012, April 23). Study Reveals Global Creativity Gap. Adobe Inc. https://www.adobe.com/aboutadobe/pressroom/pressreleases/201204/042312AdobeGlobalCreativityStudy.html

  12. Smith, K. N. (2017, August 10). How to Map the Circuits That Define Us. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-map-the-circuits-that-define-us1/

  13. Zauner, A., Daugherty, W. P., Bullock, M. R., & Warner, D. S. (2002). Brain oxygenation and energy metabolism: part I-biological function and pathophysiology. Neurosurgery, 51(2), 289–302.

  14. Brady, R., & Auslen, L. (2012, April 23). Study Reveals Global Creativity Gap. Adobe Inc. https://www.adobe.com/aboutadobe/pressroom/pressreleases/201204/042312AdobeGlobalCreativityStudy.html

  15. Cipolla MJ. The Cerebral Circulation. San Rafael (CA): Morgan & Claypool Life Sciences; 2009. Chapter 2, Anatomy and Ultrastructure.Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53086/

  16. Boddy Evans, M. (2018, February 21). 10 Ways to Create Art Without Technical Skill. LiveAbout. https://www.liveabout.com/create-art-without-skill-4154037