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Virtual art has a highly positive impact on mood and mental health

Art has long been considered a powerful source of emotional and psychological impact on our lives. But in the digital age, with access to art no longer restricted to physical spaces like museums, can virtual experiences of art have a similar effect on our mood and well-being?

A team of international researchers from the University of Vienna, the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, and the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics (MPIEA) sought to explore this question. 

Their study, funded by the EU Horizon ART*IS Project, has recently been published as an open access article in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

For the investigation, 240 participants were asked to view an interactive Monet Water Lily art exhibition provided by Google Arts and Culture. 

By responding to a questionnaire, participants reported on various aspects of their experience, including their state of mind, the pleasure they felt when viewing the paintings, and how meaningful they found the experience to be.

What the researchers learned

The results indicated that even just a few minutes of virtual art viewing led to significant improvements in participants’ mood and anxiety levels. 

Study first author MacKenzie Trupp highlights the potential of digital art as a well-being tool, stating that “online art viewing is an untapped source of support for well-being that can be consumed as bite-sized bits of meaning-making and pleasure.”

In addition to the general benefits of viewing virtual art, the researchers also discovered that some participants were more receptive to art than others and, as a result, experienced greater benefits. This advantage was predicted using a metric called “aesthetic responsiveness.” 

Edward A. Vessel of MPIEA, who developed the Aesthetic Responsiveness Assessment (AReA), explains that “aesthetic responsiveness describes how people react to diverse aesthetic stimuli, like art and nature. The results showed that individuals with high levels of art and aesthetic responsiveness benefit more from online art viewing due to having more pleasurable and meaningful art experiences.”

This research holds significant implications for those who may be unable to visit museums or art galleries in person, such as individuals with health issues. 

Moreover, the findings suggest that designers of interactive art exhibitions and similar online experiences should take into account individual differences in aesthetic responsiveness in order to maximize the potential benefits for users.

By shedding light on the benefits and limitations of experiencing art through digital media, this study paves the way for further exploration of how online art can contribute to enhancing well-being and overall quality of life.

More about art as therapy

Art as therapy, also known as art therapy or expressive arts therapy, is a form of psychotherapy that utilizes the creative process of making and experiencing art to improve a person’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. 

Art therapy has been used to treat a wide range of issues, including stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, and grief, as well as to foster personal growth and self-awareness. The therapeutic benefits of art can be observed in several key areas:

Emotional expression and catharsis

Engaging in artistic activities allows individuals to express their feelings and emotions, even those that may be difficult to articulate verbally. This emotional release can lead to a sense of relief, improved mood, and a better understanding of one’s emotional state.

Stress reduction and relaxation

The process of creating art can be meditative and calming, helping to reduce stress and promote relaxation. The act of focusing on a creative task can help shift attention away from stressors and alleviate tension.

Self-awareness and self-discovery

Art therapy can help individuals explore and understand their inner thoughts, feelings, and experiences. By creating visual representations of their emotions, people can gain insight into their personal challenges, patterns, and coping mechanisms.

Communication and social skills

Art therapy can facilitate communication between individuals and their therapists, as well as among group therapy participants. By sharing their artwork and discussing the meaning behind it, people can improve their ability to express themselves and connect with others.

Cognitive abilities and problem-solving

Engaging in creative activities can stimulate the brain and improve cognitive functions, such as memory, attention, and problem-solving skills. Art therapy can also help individuals develop new perspectives on their issues and explore alternative solutions.

Sense of accomplishment and self-esteem

Creating art can provide individuals with a sense of achievement, which in turn can boost self-esteem and self-confidence. This can be particularly helpful for those struggling with feelings of worthlessness or low self-worth.

Distraction and enjoyment

Art therapy can provide a healthy and enjoyable distraction from life’s challenges, promoting positive emotions and experiences. This can help individuals develop resilience and coping skills to better manage stress and difficult emotions.

It is important to note that art therapy can be beneficial for people of all ages and backgrounds, and no artistic talent or experience is required to participate. The focus of art therapy is on the process of creating and the personal meaning derived from the artwork, rather than the artistic merit of the finished piece.

By utilizing art as a tool for healing, self-expression, and personal growth, individuals can experience a wide range of therapeutic benefits and improve their overall well-being.


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