Art and Neuroscience with Mind mental health charity
31 May 2022
Four researchers who helped deliver an 'Art and Neuroscience' workshop with participants from Mind discuss their experience.
By Pilar Artiach Hortelano, Sorcha Hamilton, Shona Waters, and Chloe Wigg, Psychopharmacology and Emotion Research Lab
Four of us from the University of Oxford Psychopharmacology and Emotion Research Lab (PERL) helped deliver an 'Art and Neuroscience' workshop with participants from Mind, as part of the events programme accompanying WIN's "Your Amazing Brain" exhibition at Banbury Museum.
This exhibition showcased many different types of perceptual illusions, as well as sensory stimuli and posters explaining the linguistics of emotions and cultural norms and differences. The aim of this exhibition therefore was to highlight how our brain interprets what it sees, hears, smells and feels in our surrounding environment.
The Workshop – Researchers and Games
A group of Mind service users came along to the museum to check out the exhibition and to engage in exciting discussions with us about our research in how the brain processes emotional information and how this is affected by medication. During this workshop, we used interactive games such as the “emotional facial processing game” which is essentially one of our key computer-based tasks. The group collectively discussed and shared their interpretation of the different emotional expressions which sparked curiosity and in turn, such games led into interesting conversations about mental health, experimental medicine studies, and the importance of emotional cognition for our daily lives.
Question TimeAs researchers, we found it enlightening to hear what this group thought of our research, and indeed of us! They said that they expected to be intimidated by a group of “big scientists in white coats”, and instead, they were comfortable and confident to ask questions, challenging both our research, and our use of medication. We found this dissemination refreshing and it gave us a chance to explain why we are passionate about this research and how we believe in personable medicine. We agreed that we are aware that one medicine, and indeed medicine in general, is not the answer for everyone. We explained how our simple tasks (which they enjoyed) help to indicate how a certain medication, such as a specific SSRI, may indeed improve the mental health of a particular individual. To have such open conversation with a group of people who work hands-on with those who suffer with mental wellbeing issues every day was really rewarding. Their questions were frank and honest as they explained their worries about experimental medicine research, but by the end, they were confident that they all learned something new and they were fascinated by the different types of drugs we use and that we can even repurpose common drugs to try to improve emotion and cognition!
Participants had some challenging and thought-provoking questions, including how some medications for physical problems could have potential in treating mental health conditions; or how the mechanism of traditional antidepressants differs from the proposed mechanism of novel lines of treatment such as ketamine and psilocybin. Overall, it was a great opportunity to connect both researchers and the general population, and to explore new ideas and perspectives about how research is done and viewed by participants in a very informal setting.
This session was concluded with an interactive art therapy workshop with Tom Cross, an artist collaborating with Mind. Both Mind’s participants and our researcher team immersed in a collaborative and therapeutic session exploring everyone’s interpretation of positive and negative feelings through art. It was a great opportunity for both groups to bond, to let go, be vulnerable, and connect our emotions with their most creative side. We were able to draw around a table and still engage in further discussion about our research as well as general chit chat (bye bye to the big white coat theory!!). By the end – we had a fantastic piece of art that was metres and metres long and was special in so many little ways to everyone – many thanks to Mind, Tom, and Hanna for putting this together, we really enjoyed the session!