A very interesting article by Jesús C. Guillen

Why the
Does the human brain need art?

Art in all its manifestations
constitutes an essential characteristic that identifies the human being, ha
allowed to transmit the culture in all its extension and has been and is basic
for their survival. Our plastic brain needs art. Already in the
early years and naturally the child plays, sings, dances, draws and all
these activities are essential for the correct sensory development,
motor, cognitive, emotional and ultimately cerebral that they will allow
learn to learn. And doing all these activities the child has fun,
He proudly shows his results to others, tries to improve and this is one
effective way to train one of the great virtues of the human being: the self-control. Art education is one
need not because it makes us smarter but because it allows us to acquire
a whole host of mental skills and routines that are in full swing
consonance with the social nature of the human being and that they are essential
for learning any curricular content. And this is useful for
all students, so it becomes a great way to meet the
diversity in the classroom.


Brain neuroimaging reveals
some clues as to why artistic activities are so important.
Thus, for example, it is known that certain structures of the visual cortex alone
respond to musical tones, which an important part of the brain and the
cerebellum is involved in the coordination of all types of movements, as in the
dance, which in theatrical recreations regions of the brain specialized in
the oral language they are connected to the limbic system provide us
the emotional component or, referring to the visual arts, that our system
visual processing generates real or fictitious images with it
ease (Sousa, 2011).

As we can see in Figure 1, each
active artistic activity different brain regions. The music is processed
in the auditory cortex that is in the temporal lobe, the arts that
they involve movement such as dancing or theater activating the motor cortex, the
Visual arts such as painting are mainly processed in the lobes
occipital and temporal, while poetry or prose involve the
Broca and Wernicke areas related to language processing
(Posner et al., 2008).


Studies that have analyzed the
implementation of arts education in the classroom have revealed that the
More powerful effects are found in those programs that are integrated
fully in the subjects of the curriculum and that when this happens it will
they get multiple benefits related to student learning and
their behavior. Rabkin and Redmond (2004) have identified the most significant:

  • There is a
    greater emotional engagement of students in the classroom.
  • The bear
    students work more actively and learn from each other.
  • The groups
    of cooperative learning turn classes into communities of
  • Yes
    facilitates learning in all subjects through the arts.
  • The bear
    Teachers collaborate more and have higher expectations about their students.
  • He
    Curriculum becomes more real based on project-based learning.
  • The
    evaluation is more reflective and varied.
  • Las
    families get more involved.

From a neuroeducational perspective,
we are especially interested in three factors that are essential for learning
that the arts can improve:

In a study with fifth graders
grade (10-11 years) didactic units related to subjects were designed
scientific (astronomy and ecology) following two different procedures: in
one used the traditional approach and in the other the arts were integrated into
the unit. Thus, for example, in the second case, the students performed
activities with defined didactic objectives that included actions
theatrical performances, poster drawings, recreation of movements or use of the
music. The analysis of the results revealed that the students who participated
in the didactic unit in which the artistic activities were integrated
improved so-called long-term memory, especially students with
reading difficulties (Hardiman et al., 2014).

In a longitudinal study that lasted
for three years we wanted to analyze how it affected the integration of different programs
artistic to the personal development of students aged between 9 and 15 years that
they belonged to disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. In the first part of the
program was allowed to choose students from the experimental group between
different artistic forms such as music, painting, recording
videos, scriptwriting or mask design; in the second se
delved deeper into the means chosen through cooperative work; and in
the final stage in which all the students took part staged a play
theater and a video was recorded about the school community itself. The three years
program implementation revealed that students improved their
artistic and social skills, reduced their emotional problems and, in
In general, they developed more than the control group a whole series of
interpersonal skills such as communication, cooperation or
conflict resolution (Wright et al., 2006).

The arts teach children that 
real problems often have more than one possible solution, which is necessary
analyze tasks from different perspectives, that the imagination is one
 powerful guide in resolution processes or that do not always exist
rules defined when they have to make decisions (Eisner, 2004).

When the disciplines are integrated
artistic in pedagogical practices promotes creative thinking and
divergent in students and not only that, but they also develop a
deeper thought. An example of the latter could be found
in the program Artful Thinking  developed by the 
Harvard Zero Project that used the power of visual images (see
figure 2), like those of works of art, to stimulate in the students
processes such as curiosity, observation, comparison or relationship between 
essential ideas for the development of creative thinking and
learning (Hardiman, 2012).

We comment below 
Relevant aspects of some of the artistic disciplines:


Music brings us well-being because
It stimulates our brain reward system which releases dopamine and that we
it makes you feel good. It is beneficial from an emotional perspective to listen
music, but from a cognitive perspective it is better to practice it. So by
example, the simultaneous activation of sensory and motor areas when touching a
musical instrument entails the improvement of general abilities such as the working memory o la attention (Mora, 2013). However, they do exist
many misunderstandings about it.

Does music make us more

There are several studies that suggest that
children who receive music education get better academic results.
However, the existence of a correlation does not mean that there is one
causality. The child may get these better results due to others
factors related, for example, to their own abilities or to the
family environment in which they develop.

When designs are used
rigorous experiments in which there is a group of children assigned in a way
random that receives musical instruction and another control group that does not
receive, the results are different. And while it may sound surprising, it has
there have been very few experiments of this kind and with little enlightening results
on the cognitive benefits of musical activity.

Elisabeth's research group
Spelke has analyzed these issues in a very recent study (Mehr et
al., 2013). In one of the experiments, 29 children were randomly assigned
four-year-old to 45-minute music or visual arts classes
for six weeks. After that period of time a series was performed
of tests and no differences were found in which they measured competition
linguistics and mathematics of children in both groups and a very difference
small in space tests. As a reply to the previous experiment, the
researchers designed another similar one in which 45 children now participated
were assigned to the experimental group receiving the music lessons or to a
control group that did not receive any instruction. And in this case not
there were practically differences between the two groups (see figure 3):

Does this mean that instruction
musical does not produce cognitive benefits? Obviously not. On the one hand they do
more studies are needed to complement this research and on the other this study
it did not measure the general intelligence of children as others did, but it did
more aimed at analyzing specific areas such as mathematics. The truth
is that, as its own manifests Elizabeth
, the debate on the importance of music education in
particular, or artistic in general, should not focus on benefits
external (such as the mathematical improvement that is questioned in the study
commented) but in the inherent benefits to the art as they are the related ones
with emotional or social issues. And those do not require any demonstration

In 1993 he appeared in the journal Nature
an article in which a temporary improvement in reasoning was reported
spatial in adults when listening for 10-15 minutes to Mozart (Rauscher et
al., 1993). This finding was completely distorted by the media
communication leading to the belief that children 's early exposure to
classical music would improve their IQ. The truth is that I do not know
has never verified this and the so-called "Mozart effect" must be considered a
neuromito plus.


The human brain has developed a
extraordinary ability to create internal mental images and even, has
demonstrated in studies with neuroimaging that activates the same regions
cerebral when seeing a real scene than when imagining it (Thompson et al., 2009).
This is very interesting, because visualization is a powerful tool in
memorization processes.

What can a class bring

If we asked students what
learned in the visual arts classes surely most would respond
who learned to draw, paint or represent a graphic. It is logical
that in the art classes the corresponding artistic techniques are learned,
however, many more things can be learned. Winner and his collaborators
(2006) have identified eight dispositions (mental routines) that students
they can develop in visual arts classes and they can be transferred to
other domains of learning:

  • Use
    of tools and materials: students learn the techniques of
    discipline using, for example, brushes and pencils or paint and
  • Participation
    and perseverance: students learn to engage with the subject a
    through the projects carried out.
  • Imagination:
    students learn to visualize and imagine situations that move away from
    the mere observation.
  • Expression:
    students learn to convey a personal vision in their work.
  • Observation:
    students learn to use their own gaze and perceive details
    less obvious.
  • Reflection:
    students learn to explain, justify and evaluate what they do with
    a critical spirit.
  • Exploration:
    students learn to go beyond their creations, to take new ones
    risks and learn from their mistakes.
  • Understanding
    of the art world: students learn to relate to art already
    understand everything associated with it such as galleries, museums, etc.

No one can doubt the usefulness of
all these provisions in any of the curricular subjects (see
figure 4).


Paradoxically, the activities
schools that involve movement, be artistic as any style of
dance or theater or sports as in the case of Physical Education, are
being reduced. However, research in neuroscience is
demonstrating its importance at all levels, including the cognitive. By
For example, dance is a great way to develop three aspects of dance
creative thinking: fluency, originality and the capacity for abstraction
(Bradley, 2002). Moreover, today we know the same neural circuits
which are activated by performing one action also do so by observing another
person doing it. These mirror neurons enable imitation, one
powerful form of learning.

Is it worth pointing at my son
the theater?

In an investigation in which
Catterall (2002) analyzed studies on the effects of theater
in school settings he identified many benefits, some of them
directly related to curricular and other subjects, which are the
more important, with the integral development of the own person. The most
representative are the following:

  • Convert
    abstract concepts into concrete concepts.
  • Address the
    curricular contents from a more attractive perspective.
  • Improve your
  • About the
    real world learning.
  • Allow
    reflect on what they do and compare their opinions with
    those of others.
  • Encourage the
    tolerance and respect for others.
  • Improve your
    self-control and self-esteem.
  • Supply
    a feeling of freedom accompanied by responsibility.

In my particular case, I can assure you
than some of the greatest satisfactions in my teaching experience
they come from having proven as students with learning difficulties
or to relate to peers they acquired a whole range of skills
interpersonal through theater that made them better students and
especially happier people.


We have already talked about the relevance of
the arts as such, but the most important thing is to integrate the activities
artistic in each one of the different curricular subjects assuming one
transdisciplinary perspective. It will be a creative act (we can't ask for
our students who are creative if we are not) that will awaken the
student curiosity. And as we have said so many times, this burden
emotional will facilitate attention and thus learning. When we are
motivated, everything is easier.

Let's look at some concrete examples (more
information in Sousa, 2011):

  • Arts
    . He
    Chemistry teacher asks his students to draw a graphic organizer
    in which the most important phases of an experiment are shown.
  • Music. The History teacher asks his students that
    reflect in the lyrics of a popular melody the most significant facts
    of the French Revolution.
  • Poetry. The math teacher asks his students to
    write a stanza from a poem about the steps to follow
    solve a mathematical equation.
  • Theater. The English teacher asks his students to
    write an alternate ending to the play Romeo and Juliet and make one
    theatrical recreation of it.

And we can follow everything that is ours
imagination allows us. We can find examples in any subject and
at any educational stage.

Moreover, in the case of
specific artistic curricula, we have already commented that learning based
in projects it is a very good option because it encourages more cooperative work,
reflection or self-assessment that traditional approaches, generating
in addition a greater intrinsic motivation in the student.


There is no denying that activities
artistic are rooted in the very development of the human being from his
birth and that constitute a natural brain reward necessary for the
learning. Because the practice of any of the artistic manifestations
it is associated with an emotional component that motivates us and allows us
to contemplate the world around us from a different perspective, more
aesthetics, deeper. Art Education is essential because
allows students to acquire a range of socio-emotional skills
basic for their personal development and that also make them happier.
And that is the true learning, the one that prepares them for life. The brain
human being, which is a complex organ in continuous restructuring, thanks the
challenges and needs art.


Bibliographic references:

  1. Bradley K.
    (2002): “Informing and reforming dance education research”. In Deasy R.
    (Ed.), Critical links: learning in the arts and student academic and
    social development.
    Arts Education Partnership.
  2. Catterall
    J. (2002): “Research on drama and theater in education”. In Deasy R.
    (Ed.), Critical links: learning in the arts and student academic and
    social development.
    Arts Education Partnership.
  3. Eisner,
    Eliot W. (2004). The art and creation of the mind: The role of
    visual arts in the transformation of consciousness
    . Paidós.
  4. Hardiman,
    Mariale (2012). The brain-targeted teaching model for 21 st-century
    . Corwin.
  5. Hardiman
    M. et al. (2014): “The effects of arts integration on long-term retention
    of academic content ”. Mind, Brain and Education, 8 (3).
  6. Mehr SA.
    Et al. (2013): “Two randomized trials provide no consistent evidence for
    nonmusical cognitive benefits of brief preschool music enrichment ”. PLoS
    ONE 8 (12).
  7. Mora,
    Francisco (2013). Neuroeducation: you can only learn what you know
    by hand.
    Publishing Alliance.
  8. Posner, M.
    et al. (2008): “How arts training influences cognition”, en Learning,
    arts and the brain: the Dana Consortium on arts and cognition
    , Danna
  9. Rabkin N.
    and Redmond R. (2004). Putting the arts in the picture: reforming
    education in the 21st century.
    Columbia College.
  10. Rauscher
    et al. (1993): “Music and spatial task performance”. Nature, Oct. 14.
  11. Sousa,
    David A. (2011). How the brain learns. Corwin.
  12. Thomson W.
    et al. (2009): “Two forms of spatial imagery: neuroimaging evidence”.
    Psychological Science, 20.
  13. Winner E. et
    in the. (2006): “Studio thinking: how visual arts teaching can promote
    disciplined habits of mind ”. In Locher P. et al. (Eds), New directions
    in Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts
    . Baywood.
  14. Wright R.
    (2006): “Effect of a structured performing arts program on the
    psychosocial functioning of low-income youth: findings from a Canadian
    longitudinal study. ”. Journal of Early Adolescence, 26.


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