Effects of Art in Lowering Pain Levels

Since starting the ‘Creativity in Healthcare’ blog back in October 2008, the number of readers/visitors has grown exponentially, averaging 150 per day!  Thanks everyone for visiting and reading.  Come back often! 🙂 


Now, onto integrating Creativity in Healthcare…

Effects of Art in Lowering Pain Levels

The power of art to heal emotional, spiritual and psychic wounds is well known, but could looking at art considered beautiful or magnificent have the same effect on physical pain?  Researchers at the University of Bari in Italy also wondered this and decided to investigate.mhand-crystallized-testosterone-estrogen-sm

Research was coordinated by the neurological and psychiatric sciences department at the University of Bari, Italy.  Principle investigator, Dr Marinade Tommaso, concludes that looking at paintings identified as ‘beautiful’ may lower pain levels in hospital patients, than those looking at bare walls or plain pictures in disrepair.                                           (crystallized testosterone & estrogen, Marti Hand)

Lead researcher and neurologist, Dr Marina de Tommaso and assistants asked 24 healthy adults (12 women & 12 men) to select 20 paintings they considered most ugly, and most beautiful from a selection of 300 starry-night-van-goghworks by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso and Botticelli from an online art website.

They were then asked to contemplate either the beautiful paintings, ugly paintings, or a blank panel while the team administered short laser pulses on their hands causing a pricking sensation.  Below are the conclusions made by the researchers of the study:

  • The subjects rated the pain as being 1/3 less intense while viewing the ‘beautiful’ paintings compared with the pain levels experienced while viewing paintings they considered ugly or the blank panel.
  • Brain wave activity showed a reduced response to the pain when birth-of-venus-botticellithe subject looked at positive or beautiful paintings, such as Starry Night by Van Gogh and The Birth of Venus by Botticelli.  Artwork considered ugly or plain  included art by Pablo Picasso, Fernando Botero and Antonio Bueno.  Remember, the subjects selected the art they considered beautiful, ugly or uncomely at the beginning of the study.
  • Dr. Tommaso states, “Beauty obviously offers a distraction that picassougly things do not. But at least there is no suggestion that ugly surroundings make the pain worse.” By viewing aesthetically pleasing artwork, pain levels may be reduced or changed at the cortical level in the brain.
  • *Brain scans showed “a clear inhibition of the P2 wave amplitude, localised in the anterior cingulate cortex”.  (The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) plays a role in regulating blood pressure and heart rate, cognitive functions such as anticipating reward, decision-making, empathy and emotion).

Sources: 1)de Tommaso M, Sardaro M, Livrea P.  Aesthetic value of paintings affects pain thresholds. Consciousness and Cognition Dec 2008; 17(4): 1152-1162. 2) University World News, 3) New Scientist 


Activate the body’s self-healing properties by exploring the  relationship between art making and self-care with

Creative Interventions in Healthcare:

  • Art-making
  • Writing
  • Music
  • Dance
  • Humor
  • Laughter clubs
  • Art exhibits with artwork created by patients, families, professional staff
  • Indoor and outdoor gardens
  • Art at the bedside
  • Creative interventions for healthcare professionals
  • Integrative medicine modalities
  • Limitless possibilities

Below are 2 paintings created by 2 participants in a Creativity Workshop for People with Cancer & Families.  What’s more interesting than the fact of it being their first time painting are their stories behind the paintings.



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