Can Creating Art Improve Brain Function and Well-being? Seems so.

Can creating art improve the way our brains function and how we react to stress as we age? Yes, according to a study out of Germany. I enjoy a good fMRI study as much as the next person – what do you mean, you don’t – so was thrilled to see all the beautiful neuroimaging included as part of the study. For me, it adds extra dimension and insight to the working of the brain that you do not always get with psychological research.

The 10-week study measured the effect of creating art versus appreciating art on 28 retirees, 14 men and 14 women. After the study, those retirees who created art showed improved brain interactivity in areas of the brain associated with well-being and memory, as measured by fMRI. The study also saw significant improvements in psychological resilience, such as how we deal with stress.

I won’t go into too much of the neuroscience, but basically, creating art increases functional interactivity within the brain’s default mode network (DMN). Whereas dysfunction of interactivity is linked to neuropsychiatric disorders, such as major depression, schizophrenia, and autism. It is also linked to chronic pain. In addition, age relate declines in these areas are linked to reduced working memory.  If you want a lot more detail, check out the study here or an excellent Huffington Post article the covers the study in more detail here.

Unfortunately, just visiting a gallery for a little art appreciation doesn’t seem to have quite the same effect, but pair it with a trip to the café for a glass of wine, and you’ll be fine. That’s not science, that’s experience!

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 Evaluation on Functional Brain Connectivity. PLoS ONE 9(7): e101035. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0101035