Art can have a positive effect on our mood. But does this also work when we look at paintings on a screen? An international research team involving the University of Vienna, the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen and the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics (MPIEA) in Frankfurt am Main decided to investigate this question. The study was funded by the EU Horizon ART*IS Project. The results have now been published as an open access article in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
240 study participants viewed an interactive Monet Water Lily art exhibition from Google Arts and Culture. By filling out a questionnaire, they provided information about their state of mind, how much pleasure they felt when looking at the pictures, and how meaningful they considered the experience to be. The results showed significant improvements in mood and anxiety after just a few minutes of viewing.
“Online art viewing is an untapped source of support for well-being that can be consumed as bite-sized bits of meaning-making and pleasure,” says MacKenzie Trupp, first author from the University of Vienna.
The study also found that some participants were more receptive to art than others and were able to benefit more. This advantage could be predicted using a metric called “aesthetic responsiveness.”
“Aesthetic responsiveness describes how people react to diverse aesthetic stimuli, like art and nature. The results showed that individuals with high levels of art and aesthetic responsiveness benefit more from online art viewing due to having more pleasurable and meaningful art experiences,” explains Edward A. Vessel of MPIEA, developer of the Aesthetic Responsiveness Assessment (AReA).
The findings of this study are particularly interesting for people who are unable to visit museums in person, such as those with health problems. Furthermore, the results suggest that interactive art exhibitions and similar online experiences should be designed with an awareness of individual differences in aesthetic responsiveness. The study thus expands insight into the benefits and limitations of art in digital media and points the way for increasing the wellness potential of online art.