Arts and the Brain: 7 Facts to Inspire Creativity

child drawing

Every month on the Blueprint Arts blog, we look at a different area that reflects the power of the arts. Last month, we looked at how the arts benefit our communities. This month, we’re paying attention to how arts connect to the brain.

 

Read on to learn the 7 ways that arts and creativity benefit our brain – including childhood development, improving memory and dealing with stress.

1. The arts improve our cognitive abilities

Let’s start with a key fact. Engagement in structured arts and cultural activities can increase cognitive abilities by 17%. Such participation especially benefits the cognitive abilities of children and young people, according to the Arts Council.

2. The arts aid childhood cognitive development

We think it’s important to get people involved in arts from a young age.

 

And there’s a valid brain-related reason for this.

 

Participatory arts activities improve children’s cognitive as well as linguistic, social and emotional development. For this reason, various organisations promote incorporating arts into primary and secondary school education.

 

(Note: if you’re looking for something creative for your child to do over the summer, check out our Arts Summer School – running this August.)

3. Activate reward pathways in the brain with art

Are you looking to feel a sense of achievement? Try making art – even if you don’t think you’re very good at it. Doing a creative or artistic activity provides a powerful sense of achievement that goes all the way to the brain, making you feel good about yourself.

“Engaging in any sort of visual expression results in the reward pathway in the brain being activated,”​

Girja Kaimal, professor at Drexel University & researcher in art therapy.

In a study published in the journal The Arts in Psychotherapy, researchers measured blood flow to the brain’s reward centre, the medial prefrontal cortex, as people completed arts activities. It found that these activities prompted an increase in blood flow to this part of the brain.

4. Strengthen memory with creative activites

Want to improve your memory? Activities like painting can boost memory recollection skills and sharpen the mind through conceptual visualisation and implementation. As a result, those who frequently engage in such creative activities have less chance of developing memory loss issues later in life.

5. Use art to relax your brain

As well as boosting brain activity, participating in the arts can also help relieve mental strain. It is well known that creative activities can improve mental health by helping to reduce stress.

 

Try it out yourself. After a stressful day at work or school, pick up a pencil, a musical instrument, some crafting supplies or anything you fancy. Afterwards, check in with yourself and note whether your stress levels seem lower.

6. Prevent cognitive decline through engaging with the arts

Cognitive decline is a major concern for many people as they get older. Fortunately, getting involved in the arts can be a great measure for preventing such decline.

 

Scientific studies have found links between artistic/cultural engagement and lower levels of cognitive decline and dementia. For instance, a recent report from the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging showed that people over 70 who did crafts projects were less at risk of developing mild cognitive impairment than their peers who read books.

7. Arts can help the brain recover from PTSD

But how can the arts help existing cognitive issues? PTSD is an example of a brain condition that researchers know can be helped by engaging with the arts. Clinical research shows that the arts can help people to heal from PTSD by reducing symptoms like flashbacks, nightmares and interrupted sleep.