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Original research
Evidence for the effects of viewing visual artworks on stress outcomes: a scoping review
  1. Mikaela Law,
  2. Nikita Karulkar,
  3. Elizabeth Broadbent
  1. Psychological Medicine, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to Dr Elizabeth Broadbent; e.broadbent{at}


Objective To review the existing evidence on the effects of viewing visual artworks on stress outcomes and outline any gaps in the research.

Design A scoping review was conducted based on the Joanna Briggs Institute methodology for scoping reviews and using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews. Two independent reviewers performed the screening and data extraction.

Data sources Medline, Embase, APA PsycINFO, Cochrane CENTRAL, Scopus, Google Scholar, Google, ProQuest Theses and Dissertations Database, APA PsycExtra and were searched in May 2020.

Eligibility criteria Studies were included if they investigated the effects of viewing at least one visual artwork on at least one stress outcome measure. Studies involving active engagement with art, review papers or qualitative studies were excluded. There were no limits in terms of year of publication, contexts or population types; however, only studies published in the English language were considered.

Data extraction and synthesis Information extracted from manuscripts included: study methodologies, population and setting characteristics, details of the artwork interventions and key findings.

Results 14 primary studies were identified, with heterogeneous study designs, methodologies and artwork interventions. Many studies lacked important methodological details and only four studies were randomised controlled trials. 13 of the 14 studies on self-reported stress reported reductions after viewing artworks, and all of the four studies that examined systolic blood pressure reported reductions. Fewer studies examined heart rate, heart rate variability, cortisol, respiration or other physiological outcomes.

Conclusions There is promising evidence for effects of viewing artwork on reducing stress. Moderating factors may include setting, individual characteristics, artwork content and viewing instructions. More robust research, using more standardised methods and randomised controlled trial designs, is needed.

Registration details A protocol for this review is registered with the Open Science Framework (

  • complementary medicine
  • mental health
  • psychiatry
  • social medicine

Data availability statement

Data sharing not applicable as no datasets generated and/or analysed for this study. No data are available.

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:

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Data availability statement

Data sharing not applicable as no datasets generated and/or analysed for this study. No data are available.

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  • Contributors ML and EB conceptualised the project and designed the scoping review protocol. ML performed the search strategy. ML and NK performed the study screening and data extraction. ML wrote the manuscript. EB and NK edited the manuscript. All authors approved the final manuscript. ML and EB made the revisions to the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.