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Creativity benefits your brain and well-being

There is a growing body of evidence showing that the act of creating visual art can have a profound effect on mental health and well-being. The following is a brief summary of the emerging science and research about the impact of creativity on the brain and our lives generally.

New cognitive research out of Germany[1] suggests that the production of visual art improves effective interaction between parts of the brain. These researchers[2] found that people who spent time creating visual art actually showed increased connectivity in their brains. The MRI scans carried out demonstrated improvements in ‘psychological resilience’. This is a term used to describe a person’s ability to cope with negative emotions and remain happy and functional during times of stress.

It has become well known that creativity of any kind generally provides a fun, new hobby that delivers numerous health benefits. Creativity boosts recollection skills and works to sharpen the mind through conceptual visualisation and implementation. It has also been found to promote critical thinking.

Artistic pursuits offer an emotional outlet for people who struggle with stress or are going through a stressful period in their lives. Focusing on creative outlets allows a person to relax and let go of all the problems and demands that may have led to stress.

Despite the fears about making art, engaging in any sort of visual expression results in the reward pathway in the brain being activated.[3] This means that we feel good and making art is perceived as a pleasurable experience. Art-making helps us navigate problems and improves well-being.

Over time it has also been discovered that when people are making art, they increase the blood flow, and therefore oxygen flow, to the reward centre in the brain! There is growing evidence that making art can lower stress and anxiety. As little as 45 minutes of creating art in a studio setting significantly lowered cortisol levels!

Another interesting research finding is that there was no difference, in the pleasurable experiences of art-making, between experienced artists and those who were new and just beginning their artistic journeys. No matter what the skill level, being creative creates positive feelings in the artist. This is wonderful news for us all.

Art-making has been credited with increases in functional connectivity in the brain, along with enhanced activation of the visual cortex. Researchers are now likening art-making to exercise for the brain, bringing similar benefits to those of physical exercise for the body. It is becoming more accepted that art-making may help keep the mind lucid, throughout life and into old age.

In the field of neuroaesthetics, neuroscience is being used to understand how art affects our brains, both when viewing and when creating art.[4] It is becoming evident that both processes have neural (brain) benefits. Researchers found that making art stimulates the brain in ways that are different from viewing art, but a recent study[5] found that the brain experiences as much as a 10% increase in blood flow just from looking at art that the viewer considers beautiful. In more recent times, research findings are saying that any experience of beauty, visual or musical, literally impacts on the decision-making areas of our brain.[6]

The relationships between creativity, the brain and our well-being are fascinating and thankfully continue to be examined. When I introduced art-making into my everyday life I was unaware of this research. However, I knew first-hand that painting in between writing (especially when I was stuck) felt like someone had opened the window an let fresh air into my brain and thinking. Hence the name of my book 'Creative oxygen for the writing soul'. You can read more about this book here.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

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