July 25, 2023

Your brain on art

In the case of reading poetry or fiction, you find yourself submerged in a narrative universe built from words. A powerful line of poetry can strike a chord deep within, illuminating feelings and thoughts previously unacknowledged. A riveting piece of fiction can transport you into the shoes of another, expanding your empathy and understanding. The intricate use of language stimulates your cognition, triggering a cascade of emotional responses that foster connectivity and emotional depth.

When you watch a film, you embark on a visual and auditory journey orchestrated by filmmakers. The storylines, characters, and their emotions can elicit sympathetic responses, influencing your feelings and thoughts. The carefully crafted cinematography, combined with a resonating soundtrack, can trigger a sensory symphony that alters your mood and perspective, often evoking strong emotional reactions.

Listening to music, too, can be a deeply moving experience. It’s not just the melody or rhythm that touches your heart; it’s also the lyrics, the voice, the very soul of the piece that connects with yours. The harmonies and rhythms resonate within us, entraining our heartbeats, releasing a rush of dopamine, and inducing feelings ranging from joy to melancholy. It’s a transformative experience that transcends the physical world, affecting our biological state, connecting us with the essence of human experience.

The act of dancing, moving your body rhythmically to the beats of music, creates a vibrant link between the physical and the emotional. It’s an expression of your feelings, an unspoken language that communicates through movement. The exercise generates endorphins, creating a feeling of happiness and well-being, while the physical manifestation of rhythm and music can lead to profound emotional release.

Magsamen and Ross point out the neurochemical exchanges that these art forms initiate. They can lead to what Aristotle defined as ‘catharsis’ – a release of emotion that not only purifies and purges one’s feelings but also offers a heightened sense of connection with oneself and others. This process, bridging the gap between the biological and the emotional, can lead to moments of self-realization and a deeper understanding of our shared humanity.

All these experiences in the realm of art – whether it’s virtual reality, reading, watching a film, listening to music, or dancing – are not just forms of entertainment. They are biologically transformative processes that touch the core of our being, shaping our emotional landscape, and connecting us in ways we often cannot articulate. The arts offer us a unique lens to view and experience the world, creating a profound and lasting impact on our minds and hearts.

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