How does your emotion affect your art?

Question to the brain

Answer by graduate psychologist Eugen Wassiliwizky, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics: Art can appeal to many different emotions or it can simply be funny - but the most impressive effect of art is the feeling of movement. There is a whole range of scenarios that we find moving.

One of them is overcoming obstacles. Many narrative works of art such as film or literature also work with this: the protagonist cannot achieve something at first, a tension is built up. Finally he does it, the tension is released. We perceive this as moving with joy. However, this effect only arises because negative emotions have prevailed before. Joyful emotion also plays an important role in many other popular Hollywood scenarios, for example in reunification scenes.

In addition to this joyful emotion, there are also sadly moving scenarios in works of art: Here, the focus is on sad emotions. - for example in farewell scenes. However, they too are balanced by a positive, emotional counterpoint.

But not only narrative works of art address opposing feelings at the same time: Music and poetry also play with tension and their dissolution through time and meter. Images and photographs do not contain any dynamic components - but we often have a story about images in our head, which in turn evokes negative and positive emotions at the same time. This is often the case, for example, with classical works of art based on scenes from the Bible. Regardless of the art form, the mixture of different feelings has a moving effect: the main emotion, whether positive or negative, dominates around 70 percent of our feelings, the opposite emotion around 30 percent.

Addressing opposing emotions when perceiving works of art is also reflected in our physical reactions. If people are very moved, they often get goose bumps and are moved to tears at the same time. These two physical reactions are controlled by different nervous systems: Goosebumps are caused by exciting emotions and are controlled exclusively by the sympathetic nervous system. This is responsible for actions such as fighting or fleeing and mobilizes the body. If the sympathetic nervous system is activated, the skin conductance increases, the heart beats faster and we breathe deeper.

The tears flowing at the same time, however, control the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for regeneration. He also reacts when the person feels overwhelmed or gives up.

When we feel particularly moved, two opposing systems in the body, the parasympathetic and the sympathetic, are activated at the same time. This is extremely rare and makes the feeling of being moved so special.

Although being moved always contains negative emotions due to the mixture of opposing feelings, the brain's reward system is also always active. Normally, these very old structures of the brain are responsible for vital stimuli such as food or sex - but works of art, like drugs, seem to have hacked into this system as well dadurch and thus develop their special effect.

Recorded by Natalie Steinmann