From admiring a beautiful painting to taking in a breathtaking sunset, experiencing a moment of ‘awe’ may have a positive effect on your immune system. According to a study by UC Berkeley, published in the journal Emotion, researchers have been able to connect the dots and found that the moments of astonishment we feel when experiencing art have profound effects on our health.
The study consisted of gathering more than 200 young adults in two separate groups and exposing them to various works of art. Participants reported that in response to the works they had experienced feelings of awe, amusement, compassion, contentment, joy, love, and pride. Researchers procured samples of gum and cheek tissue (oral mucosal transudate) on the same day which revealed that the young adults who experienced these moments of positivity had the lowest levels of the cytokine, Interleukin 6.
According to the report, this pro-inflammatory cytokine is the protein responsible for making the immune system work harder. They aid our bodies in fighting infections, trauma, and disease. However, the study also revealed that greater levels of cytokines can be associated with disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, clinical depression, and even diabetes according to this study.
To understand a little about how moments of awe would be a powerful predictor of reduced pro-inflammatory cytokines, Stellar explains that “awe is associated with curiosity and a desire to explore, suggesting antithetical behavioral responses to those found during inflammation, where individuals typically withdraw from others in their environment.” She also suggests that “it is possible that having lower cytokines makes people feel more positive emotions, or that the relationship is bidirectional.