Beautiful art ‘can act as painkiller’

How looking at beautiful art can help relieve pain

It seems there’s more to art than just adorning the walls – contemplating a beautiful work can actually help to ease pain, according to new research.

The research by an Italian university asked a group of men and women to pick the 20 paintings they considered most beautiful and most ugly from 300 works by artists including Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli.

They were then asked to contemplate either the beautiful painting, the ugly one or a blank panel while the team zapped a short laser pulse at their hand, making it feel as though they had been pricked by a pin.

Those who took part rated the pain as a third less intense while they were viewing the beautiful paintings compared with the other ugly or blank options.

Electrodes measuring the brain’s activity confirmed a reduced response to the pain when they looked at those works rated as beautiful, which included Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.

Professor de Tommaso, who carried out the research which is reported in New Scientist, said it is the first to show that beauty plays a part in the healing process.

‘Hospitals have been designed to be functional, but we think that their aesthetic aspects should be taken into account too,’ she said.

‘I think these results show that more research is needed into the how a beautiful environment can alleviate suffering.’

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