The Michelangelo effect: works of art and virtual reality enhance the effectiveness of neurorehabilitation therapies
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, was conducted at the Fondazione Santa Lucia IRCCS, in collaboration with researchers from the departments of Psychology and Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Sapienza and Unitelma Sapienza. It combined great works of art with virtual reality technology to enhance the effectiveness of neurorehabilitation for people who have suffered severe neurological damage due to a stroke, leading to the reduction or loss of the use of one arm or one side of the body (hemiplegia).
Within a virtual reality environment, patients were asked to move a cursor on a virtual canvas in front of them using the hand of the side of the body paralysed due to brain injury. Movements on the canvas uncovered the image of an artistic masterpiece, e.g. Michelangelo's Creation of Adam, Botticelli's Venus or Picasso's Three Musicians, revealing the complete work of art at the end of the exercise when the cursor had covered the entire canvas.
Compared to a group of patients who performed the same exercise by merely colouring the blank canvas, patients who virtually painted a work of art experienced better results and faster recovery over time, as well as less fatigue at the end of therapy.
"This result is part of a series of studies that, starting from research on mirror neurons, have addressed the issue of the brain's response to art," commented Marco Iosa of the Department of Psychology, co-author of the study and researcher at IRCCS Santa Lucia. "Our study intended to see if these positive effects could be used to increase patient involvement in neurorehabilitation, and we found that similar to the Mozart Effect in music therapy, there is what we have called the Michelangelo Effect in neurorehabilitation.
The virtual reality interface, adapted by neuroscientist and psychologist Gaetano Tieri of the Santa Lucia IRCCS in collaboration with Unitelma Sapienza, offered the possibility of controlling all the exercise parameters, monitoring movements in detail and measuring the patient's progress. Virtual reality is an increasingly popular tool for exploiting the plasticity of the brain. By using visual or even tactile stimuli, it is possible to encourage positive behaviour, such as the fluid and controlled movement of a hand on a canvas, and to recognise pathological movements, allowing the brain to restore, where possible, the correct function of such action.
The Michelangelo effect: art improves the performance in a virtual reality task developed for upper limb neurorehabilitation - Iosa M., Aydin M., Candelise C., Coda N., Morone G., Antonucci G., Marinozzi F., Bini F., Paolucci S., Tieri G. - Frontiers in Psychology https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.611956
Department of Psychology