Art on the Brain

Self-portrait, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889, Musée d’Orsay

It’s not hard to believe that humans are built to love art. A study conducted at the University of Toronto in 2014 found that the human brain is hard-wired for art appreciation. Likely that has a lot to do with the fact that American museums report 850 million annual visits—that’s more than the attendance at major sporting events or theme parks combined. (Museums also receive millions of yearly online visits, and that number is bound to rise, given the current climate.)

As reported in the scientific journal, Brain and Cognition, 330 participants were asked to view an assortment of paintings by both famous and non-famous artists while an MRI scan monitored their brains. “[T]he study found that paintings activated areas of the brain involved in vision, pleasure, memory, recognition and emotions, in addition to systems that underlie the conscious processing of new information to give it meaning,” the Wall Street Journal recounted.

According to the study, it doesn’t matter if the artwork observed was by a famous artist or not (participants responded to both).  So, whether it’s a van Gogh you view, or an unknown Instagram artist, feast your eyes on art and let your neurons fire away!


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