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Emotions are evoked in the body by art: Study

People from all over the world are drawn to making and enjoying art, and human emotions are often the focus of visual, musical, and performing arts. However, little is known about the mechanisms that underlie the emotions that art elicits.

A new study reveals how we feel when we look at visual art. The people who took part in the study looked at various kinds of art and talked about how the art made them feel in their bodies.

While the subjects were looking at the artwork, the researchers recorded their eye movements. In addition, the subjects evaluated the emotions evoked by each piece of art. People felt a wide range of emotions when they looked at the art.

Even though many of the pieces dealt with dark or frightening subjects, the majority of the people’s feelings were positive. Emotions were also influenced by the physical sensations that art evoked: According to Professor Lauri Nummenmaa of the Turku PET Centre at the University of Turku, Finland, “the subject’s emotions were stronger the stronger the body’s reaction to the artwork.”

“Human figures were the most fascinating and popular subjects in the artworks. When we look at human figures in art, we probably also tend to sympathize with their feelings because people tend to feel what each other is going through. According to Academician Riitta Hari of Aalto University, “mirroring” allows the viewer to unconsciously absorb the human emotions depicted in art.

The study included 1,186 people from all over the world who evaluated the feelings evoked by over 300 artworks. Online surveys and recordings of eye movement in the laboratory were used in the research.

“Our findings suggest that the aesthetic experience is significantly influenced by our bodies. Substantial sensations can attract individuals to craftsmanship: The stimulation of the pleasure centers in the body that art elicits feels good to the viewer.

According to Professor Nummenmaa, “this is why the feelings and bodily sensations evoked by art can be used, for example, in mental health rehabilitation and care.”