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Magic Moments: Determinants of Stress Relief and Subjective Wellbeing from Visiting a Cultural Heritage Site

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We provide an experimental evaluation of the impact of aesthetic experiences in terms of stress reduction (cortisol levels) and wellbeing increase. The test experience is a visit to the vault of the Sanctuary of Vicoforte, Italy. Data have been collected using a double step method. A structured interview in relation to the individual subjective well-being has been administered to a sample of 100 subjects. In addition, a sample of their saliva has been taken, and its cortisol level measured, before and after the experience, and likewise for momentary wellbeing measured on a Visual Analogous Scale. Subjects reported an average increase of 40% in wellbeing and a decrease of the 60% in the cortisol level. The recorded cortisol level values dropped on average well beyond the decrease normally associated to its circadian cycle. The modulating role of various variables has been appreciated, and profiling of the typical subjects who are wellbeing respondents/non-respondents and cortisol respondents/non-respondents has been carried out. We conclude that aesthetic experience seems to have a noticeable impact on individual physical and mental health. In both dominions, cultural participation intensity is significantly correlated to the response. The study underlines the potential of the arts and culture as a new platform for public health practices and new approaches to welfare policy design.
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ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Magic Moments: Determinants of Stress Relief
and Subjective Wellbeing from Visiting a Cultural
Heritage Site
Enzo Grossi
1
Giorgio Tavano Blessi
2
Pier Luigi Sacco
2,3,4
Published online: 12 July 2018
ÓSpringer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018
Abstract We provide an experimental evaluation of the impact of aesthetic expe-
riences in terms of stress reduction (cortisol levels) and wellbeing increase. The test
experience is a visit to the vault of the Sanctuary of Vicoforte, Italy. Data have been
collected using a double step method. A structured interview in relation to the
individual subjective well-being has been administered to a sample of 100 subjects.
In addition, a sample of their saliva has been taken, and its cortisol level measured,
before and after the experience, and likewise for momentary wellbeing measured on
a Visual Analogous Scale. Subjects reported an average increase of 40% in well-
being and a decrease of the 60% in the cortisol level. The recorded cortisol level
values dropped on average well beyond the decrease normally associated to its
circadian cycle. The modulating role of various variables has been appreciated, and
profiling of the typical subjects who are wellbeing respondents/non-respondents and
cortisol respondents/non-respondents has been carried out. We conclude that aes-
thetic experience seems to have a noticeable impact on individual physical and
mental health. In both dominions, cultural participation intensity is significantly
correlated to the response. The study underlines the potential of the arts and culture
&Pier Luigi Sacco
pierluigi.sacco@iulm.it; pierluigi_sacco@fas.harvard.edu
Enzo Grossi
Enzo.Grossi@bracco.com
Giorgio Tavano Blessi
g.tavano@iuav.it
1
Villa Santa Maria Institute, Tavernerio, Italy
2
IULM University, Milan, Italy
3
FBK-IRVAPP, Trento, Italy
4
Harvard University and MetaLAB (at) Harvard, Cambridge, MA, USA
123
Cult Med Psychiatry (2019) 43:4–24
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11013-018-9593-8
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... The stress alleviating effects of viewing visual art are mixed [37] and were mainly investigated in museum and gallery settings. Gallery visits caused faster recovery from high stress assessed by salivary cortisol level [38], and having an aesthetic experience in a religious cultural heritage site resulted in a decrease of 60% salivary cortisol level [39] compared to the normally associated level of cortisol decrease during the circadian cycle (as importantly, these two studies [38,39] had no other control groups). Furthermore, artworks-especially figurative ones in comparison with modern art-decreased systolic blood pressure as an indicator of stress relief [40]. ...
... The stress alleviating effects of viewing visual art are mixed [37] and were mainly investigated in museum and gallery settings. Gallery visits caused faster recovery from high stress assessed by salivary cortisol level [38], and having an aesthetic experience in a religious cultural heritage site resulted in a decrease of 60% salivary cortisol level [39] compared to the normally associated level of cortisol decrease during the circadian cycle (as importantly, these two studies [38,39] had no other control groups). Furthermore, artworks-especially figurative ones in comparison with modern art-decreased systolic blood pressure as an indicator of stress relief [40]. ...
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... Examining how art museums may address ill-being has been a common thread in many museum studies. Art museum engagement has been associated with reducing a range of ill-being related outcomes, including reducing cortisol levels (Clow & Fredhoi, 2004;Grossi et al., 2019), lowering momentary anxiety (Binnie, 2010), reducing depression symptoms (D'Cunha et al., 2019), and lowering loneliness (Koebner et al., 2019). ...
... In some cases, well-being may also help to buffer against ill-being, but it should not be thought of only in those terms. Beyond merely buffering against ill-being, art museum engagement has been associated with improving several well-being related factors, including raising subjective wellbeing (D'Cunha et al., 2019;Grossi et al., 2019), greater perceived quality of life (Michalos & Kahlke, 2010;Schall et al., 2018), enhancing emotional well-being (Camic et al., 2016;Herron & Jamieson, 2020;Roberts et al., 2011;Thomson et al., 2018), and increasing feelings of social connection (Herron & Jamieson, 2020;Roberts et al., 2011). ...
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... After only an hour of this very emotional and aesthetically rewarding experience, we documented a drop in salivary cortisol, the stress hormone, and an increase in the pleasantness index. (6) Neither beauty nor happiness are taught in school and perhaps we should start from there. In fact, they should be compulsory subjects already in elementary school or even in kindergarten, to be added to scientific culture (as Giorgio Parisi, Nobel Prize winner, claims). ...
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... The role of visual arts and their usefulness, both for therapy and for the promotion of well-being and for the development of clinical skills, is highlighted by the report of the European section of the World Health Organization [5]. Furthermore, exposure to arts or exercising artistic activities can be "therapeutic," lowering cortisol levels and therefore limiting stress [6,7]. ...
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Medical Humanities approach is becoming an important action in the health curriculum. Art can play a central role in the training of care staff for the development of skills and for the humanization of the therapeutic path. The application of art as a tool for learning and its historical relationship with medicine can be a valid support for the development of skills such as observation, active listening, problem solving and empathy, useful for improving the profession and the relationship with the patient. It is possible to rediscover the link between art, medicine, and care to help health professionals to improve their activities and resilience. Particular methods such as that of the Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) can help health students and professionals to become better actors in the care context.
... One potential rationale for this finding is stress reduction, which can be influenced by savoring art. Prior research has suggested that art engagements (e.g., music listening, visiting cultural heritage sites) lower cortisol levels, which signifies stress relief (Grossi et al., 2019;Linnemann et al., 2015). In fact, one study suggested that dysregulation (of~) of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is significantly associated with BHR (Park et al., 2020). ...
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... CCIs have been viewed as drivers of economic growth [25][26][27][28][29][30][31]. Beyond their intrinsic value and direct economic impact, culture and creativity have been considered a source of innovation [32][33][34][35] and social impact through wellbeing [36][37][38], inclusion [39,40] (see [41] for a critic urban regeneration [42][43][44][45]; see [46] for a critical account), and sustainability [47][48][49][50]. This evidence underlines and explains both the political interest in the creative economy at all levels [51][52][53] and the potential for culture-led policy [10,54]. ...
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