Magic Moments: Determinants of Stress Relief and Subjective Wellbeing from Visiting a Cultural Heritage Site

Abstract

We provide an experimental evaluation of the impact of aesthetic experiences in terms of stress reduction (cortisol levels) and wellbeing increase. The test experience is a visit to the vault of the Sanctuary of Vicoforte, Italy. Data have been collected using a double step method. A structured interview in relation to the individual subjective well-being has been administered to a sample of 100 subjects. In addition, a sample of their saliva has been taken, and its cortisol level measured, before and after the experience, and likewise for momentary wellbeing measured on a Visual Analogous Scale. Subjects reported an average increase of 40% in wellbeing and a decrease of the 60% in the cortisol level. The recorded cortisol level values dropped on average well beyond the decrease normally associated to its circadian cycle. The modulating role of various variables has been appreciated, and profiling of the typical subjects who are wellbeing respondents/non-respondents and cortisol respondents/non-respondents has been carried out. We conclude that aesthetic experience seems to have a noticeable impact on individual physical and mental health. In both dominions, cultural participation intensity is significantly correlated to the response. The study underlines the potential of the arts and culture as a new platform for public health practices and new approaches to welfare policy design.

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Funding

The economic support for this study was provided by Kalatà Foundation (Mondovì, Italy).

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Correspondence to Pier Luigi Sacco.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Specifically, an ethical approval for the study was obtained from the ethical committee of Santa Croce Hospital (Cuneo, Italy).

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Grossi, E., Tavano Blessi, G. & Sacco, P.L. Magic Moments: Determinants of Stress Relief and Subjective Wellbeing from Visiting a Cultural Heritage Site. Cult Med Psychiatry 43, 4–24 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11013-018-9593-8

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Keywords

  • Culture
  • Heritage
  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Wellbeing
  • Cortisol
  • Stress