Category Archives: Health

Art can change your brain

We’ve all heard about art’s psychological and physiological effects. Researchers have found, for instance, that a lunchtime jaunt to an art gallery can reduce work-related stress, and that creating art might even help cancer patients. But what about art’s neurological impact — can picking up a paintbrush actually change your brain?

A study conducted on recent retirees in Germany suggests it might. Over 10 weeks, scientists at the University Hospital Erlangen had 14 men and women between the ages of 62 and 70 participate in hands-on art classes, while another 14 took an art appreciation course. Before the testing period began, retirees completed a test measuring their emotional resilience and also had their brains scanned. At the end, the tests were taken again and new brain scans conducted.

The results were published in the open-access peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, in an article titled “How Art Changes Your Brain: Differential Effects of Visual Art Production and Cognitive Art Evaluation on Functional Brain Connectivity.” Researchers discovered “a significant improvement in psychological resilience” among those who participated in drawing and painting classes; they did not find it in the art-appreciation group. What’s more, the fMRI scans of the art-class group also showed improved “effective interaction” between certain regions of the brain known as the default mode network. This area is associated with cognitive process like introspection, self-monitoring, and memory. Since connectivity in this area decreases in old age, it’s possible that art could reverse and even stop its decay.

The question remains open as to why those who studied art history didn’t enjoy similar benefits. The researchers speculate:

The improvements in the visual art production group may be partially attributable to a combination of motor and cognitive processing. Other recent fMRI studies have demonstrated enhancements in the functional connectivity between the frontal, posterior, and temporal cortices after the combination of physical exercises and cognitive training … The participants in our study were required to perform the cognitive tasks of following, understanding, and imitating the visual artist’s introduction. Simultaneously, the participants had to find an individual mode of artistic expression and maintain attention while performing their activity. Although we cannot provide mechanistic explanations, the production of visual art involves more than the mere cognitive and motor processing described. The creation of visual art is a personal integrative experience – an experience of “flow,” – in which the participant is fully emerged in the creative activity … The visual art production intervention involved the development of personal expression and attentional focus on self-related experience during art creation.

Although the sample group is very small, the research suggests there could be some real concrete benefits to creativity, particularly as older populations boom. It could also offer new insight into the lives of artists who worked industriously into old age: Picasso and Matisse produced work until their deaths at ages 91 and 84, respectively, while Louise Bourgeois — whose artistic success only came in her 70s — worked steadily until she died at 98. Their art was driven by fervent creative passion, but what if it was also the thing keeping them lucid?

Brain System For Emotional Self-Control

Different brain areas are activated when we choose to suppress an emotion, compared to when we are instructed to inhibit an emotion, according a new study from the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Ghent University.
In this study, published in Brain Structure and Function, the researchers scanned the brains of healthy participants and found that key brain systems were activated when choosing for oneself to suppress an emotion. They had previously linked this brain area to deciding to inhibit movement.
“This result shows that emotional self-control involves a quite different brain system from simply being told how to respond emotionally,” said lead author Dr Simone Kuhn (Ghent University).
In most previous studies, participants were instructed to feel or inhibit an emotional response. However, in everyday life we are rarely told to suppress our emotions, and usually have to decide ourselves whether to feel or control our emotions.
In this new study the researchers showed fifteen healthy women unpleasant or frightening pictures. The participants were given a choice to feel the emotion elicited by the image, or alternatively to inhibit the emotion, by distancing themselves through an act of self-control.
The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of the participants. They compared this brain activity to another experiment where the participants were instructed to feel or inhibit their emotions, rather than choose for themselves.
Different parts of the brain were activated in the two situations. When participants decided for themselves to inhibit negative emotions, the scientists found activation in the dorso-medial prefrontal area of the brain. They had previously linked this brain area to deciding to inhibit movement.
In contrast, when participants were instructed by the experimenter to inhibit the emotion, a second, more lateral area was activated.
“We think controlling one’s emotions and controlling one’s behavior involve overlapping mechanisms,” said Dr Kuhn.
“We should distinguish between voluntary and instructed control of emotions, in the same way as we can distinguish between making up our own mind about what do, versus following instructions.”
Regulating emotions is part of our daily life, and is important for our mental health. For example, many people have to conquer fear of speaking in public, while some professionals such as health-care workers and firemen have to maintain an emotional distance from unpleasant or distressing scenes that occur in their jobs.
Professor Patrick Haggard (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience) co-author of the paper said the brain mechanism identified in this study could be a potential target for therapies.
“The ability to manage one’s own emotions is affected in many mental health conditions, so identifying this mechanism opens interesting possibilities for future research.
“Most studies of emotion processing in the brain simply assume that people passively receive emotional stimuli, and automatically feel the corresponding emotion. In contrast, the area we have identified may contribute to some individuals’ ability to rise above particular emotional situations.
“This kind of self-control mechanism may have positive aspects, for example making people less vulnerable to excessive emotion. But altered function of this brain area could also potentially lead to difficulties in responding appropriately to emotional situations.”

What is Dance Movement Therapy?

According to the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA): Based on the understanding that the body and mind are interrelated, dance/movement therapy (D/MT) is defined as the psychotherapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical, and social integration of the individual. Dance/movement therapy is practiced in mental health, rehabilitation, medical, educational, and forensic settings, and in nursing homes, day care centers, disease prevention, and health promotion programs. The dance/movement therapist focuses on movement behavior as it emerges in thetherapeutic relationship. Expressive, communicative, and adaptive behaviors are all considered for both group and individual treatment. Body movement as the core component of dance simultaneously provides the means of assessment and the mode of intervention for dance/movement therapy.

I often define D/MT to clients as psychotherapy that is not limited to talking but encompasses the full range of human expression, including movement such as gestures and or postures, drawing, writing, drama, music and other expressions that can have a therapeutic benefit for the client(s).

Dance Movement Therapy is a creative arts therapy rooted in the expressive nature of dance. Since dance/movement comes from the body it is considered the most fundamental of the arts and is a direct expression (and experience) of the self. Dance/movement is a basic form of authentic communication, and as such it is an especially effective medium for therapy.

Dance/movement therapists (R-DMT or BC-DMT) work with individuals of all ages, groups and families in a wide variety of settings. They focus on helping their clients improve self-esteem and body image, develop effective communication skills and relationships, expand their movement vocabulary, gain insight into patterns of behavior, as well as create new options for coping with problems. Movement is the primary medium DMT’s use for observation, assessment, research, therapeutic interaction, and interventions.

DMT’s work in settings that include psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, schools, nursing homes, drug treatment centers, counseling centers, medical facilities, crisis centers, and wellness and alternative health care centers.