Ep. 153: Your Brain On Art: What is neuroarts, and how do the arts transform us? With Susan Magsamen, MAS

What are the benefits of art in health?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Did you know that music and the arts can measurably change your brain, body, and behavior? Neuroaesthetics (or neuroarts) is the interdisciplinary study of this process, and the translation of this knowledge into practices that enhance health and wellbeing. The arts can be used as preventative medicine, symptom relief for chronic health issues, illness intervention, developmental issues, and psychological support.


My guest today is Susan Magsamen, MAS, a faculty member in the neurology department at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She is the Founder and Director of the International Arts + Mind Lab Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics at the Pedersen Brain Science Institute of Johns Hopkins’ School of Medicine. She is also the Co-Director of the NeuroArts Blueprint with Aspen Institute, and the author of many books. Her latest book is called, Your Brain On Art: How the Arts Transform Us, and just released TODAY!

Photo Credit: Margaret Rogalski


We discuss:

  • How Susan and Mindy connected.
  • What IS neuroarts, or neuroaesthetics?
  • What are the benefits and some of the results that come from understanding the science of the arts?
  • How does NeuroArts Blueprint fit into all of this?
  • Susan’s new book, Your Brain On Art: How the Arts Transform Us, written with Ivy Ross, Vice President of Hardware Design at Google.
  • What is an aesthetic mindset?
  • What is the importance of neuroplasticity and salience?
  • How and why is art (especially music) a major conduit for saliency and building new synaptic connections?
  • How do aesthetics and aesthetic experiences heal the body?
  • Six distinct ways the arts are being used to heal the body: as preventative medicine; as symptom relief for everyday health issues; as a treatment or intervention for illness, developmental issues, and accidents; as psychological support; as a tool for successfully liv­ing with chronic issues; and at the end of life to provide solace and meaning.
  • What is social prescribing?
  • How can this information be incorporated into my life?
  • “Achieving well-being is both an art and a sci­ence, and neuroarts bridges that gap.” – Ruth Katz, The Aspen Institute
  • What is the documented return on investment of arts interventions?
  • How can the arts and aesthetics enable us to flourish in our lives?
  • What are some surprising examples of aesthetic experiences that many people have easy access to?
  • Do you need to be “artistically untalented” to enjoy the benefits of neuroarts?
  • My firsthand experience of an aesthetic experience that enhanced my life and my experience of bonding with others: the jeep ride with my daughter, her boyfriend, and her roommate!

Connect/Other Resources

Other episodes we mentioned or that you may enjoy:

In-Episode Promo

Arts for the Health of It podcast


Susan brings her co-author, Ivy Ross, to us by describing how a CymaScope was used to provide an image of the sound of Ivy’s humming. Watch the video here:

Closing Words

Thank you so much to Susan for joining us today, and also to Ivy Ross for co-authoring this amazing book with Susan. Susan did want me to mention that, while we discussed how the brain processes music in the limbic system, which processes emotion, there are many ways music is processed in the brain that we didn’t have time to discuss, and that is another remarkable aspect of the art form of music. And one fun tidbit I wanted to mention is that Susan and Ivy’s book has a fun self-quiz in it that you can take to see where you currently are in your aesthetic mindset. They define an aesthetic mindset as “simply the ways in which you are aware of the arts and aesthetics around you, and how you bring them into your life with purpose. Being in the aesthetic mindset is about being present in your life. You’re feeling and sensing all of the things that make you feel alive, grounded, and con­nected.”

As always, there are lots of links in the show notes, as well as a transcript of this episode and a list of related episodes you may enjoy.

All Enhance Life with Music episodes are evergreen; so check out the back catalogue for more ways that music can make your life better.

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Thank you so much for joining me today. Until next time, may your life be enhanced with music.

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