5 Top Learnings on How the Arts Can Improve Health and Wellbeing

5 picks of a scoping review conducted by Daisy Fancourt and Saoirse Finn on behalf of the World Heatlh Organization

By Google Arts & Culture

World Heatlh Organization

Musical Angel (Around 1522) by Rosso FiorentinoUffizi Gallery

The role of Arts in Health & Wellbeing

Results from over 3000 studies identified a major role for the arts in the prevention of ill health, promotion of health, and management and treatment of illness across the lifespan. Here is a focus on the role arts can play in prevention and promotion.

Photo of the presentation of the artist Luka Mukavele in 2018 (21th Century) by Ouri PotaVirtual Museum of Lusophony

1. Enhancing Social Bonding

There is a wide literature on the potential role of the arts - in particular, music - in enhancing social bonding. The arts can also be used to support regeneration programs: inner-city housing projects incorporating the arts have been found to improve the built environment and enhance social cohesion.

Family 3 (2014 - 2014) by F.R. DoctoleroCenter for Art, New Ventures & Sustainable Development (CANVAS)

2. Improving Child Development

Mother–infant singing has been found to enhance maternal nurturing behaviours, reduce stress hormones in mothers and their infants, and increase the mother–infant bond.

Music plays an important part in language development. Benefits are also found from other arts activities such as theatre programs for preschoolers to improve verbal communication and picture storybook. Other activities such as dance, can also enhance developmental maturity.

Fana Fraser & Beatrice Capote in "BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play" (2015-09) by Photo Credit: Christopher DugganCamille A. Brown & Dancers

3. Encouraging healthy behaviours

Observational studies show promising evidence that people who engage with the arts are more likely to lead healthier lives, including eating healthily and staying physically active.

For instance, dance can be more effective than exercise in reducing body fat, possibly through the role of music in improving mood and helping to maintain attention. 

Argentum (2010/2013) by Zumigraffitimundo

4. Bringing positive emotions

There is a large body of research showing how arts engagement can enhance positive emotions we have in our daily lives, our life satisfaction or our sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.

There is also a growing literature on the preventive benefits of arts engagement in relation to mental health. Activities such as making and listening to music, dancing, art and visiting cultural sites are all associated with stress management and prevention.

‘Clear Moment I' and '...II' by Charlotte Cornish (2011) by Ted AllenPaintings in Hospitals

5. Supporting caregiving

Exhibitions, books, performances and installations can support science communication and encourage new audiences to engage with research on health. 
Besides, art appreciation classes have been found to improve verbal and nonverbal communication skills in clinical teams.

The arts can also support mental health and wellbeing in health-care staff. For instance, the development of empathy through music and movement has been linked with lower stress and burn-out and higher resilience. 

"Eighteen twenty-eight" (2014) by MadCWomen's Forum Street Art Project

Additional resources

Get the World Health Organization report here and learn more on Arts and Health & Wellbeing.
Interested in learning on how dance can improve your wellbeing? Read this article by Johns Hopkins International Arts + Mind lab.

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