(Funded by the Center for Health Design Research Coalition Grant, 2009-10) A Literature Review
A systematic review of neuroscience articles was undertaken on the emotional states of fear, anxiety and pain to understand how emotional response is linked to visual characteristics of an image, at the level of brain behavior. A number of outcome studies link exposure to visual images (with nature content) to improvement in stress, anxiety and pain perception. However, an understanding of the underlying perceptual mechanisms has been lacking. In this article neuroscience studies that use visual images to induce fear, anxiety or pain are reviewed, to gain an understanding of how the brain processes visual images within this context, and explore if this processing can be linked to specific visual characteristics. The amygdala was identified as one of the key regions of the brain involved in the processing of fear, anxiety and pain (induced by visual images). Other key areas included the thalamus, insula and hippocampus. Characteristics of visual images such as the emotional dimension (valence/ arousal), subject matter (familiarity, ambiguity, novelty, realism, and facial expressions), and form (sharp and curved contours), were identified as key factors influencing emotional processing.