EMBARGOED UNTIL 21:00 (9 P.M.) U.S. EASTERN TIME, TUESDAY, MARCH 22, 2022,  / 01:00 (1 A.M.) UK TIME, WEDNESDAY, MARCH 23, 2022

Newswise — Teenagers who take part in arts and cultural activities, such as dance, drama, reading and going to concerts, are less likely to engage in antisocial and criminalized behavior up to two years later, according to a new study by University College London (UCL) and University of Florida (UF) researchers.

For the peer-reviewed study, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, researchers looked at data from more than 25,000 teenagers in the United States who had filled out questionnaires over several years.

They measured the teenagers’ overall engagement with arts based on a wide range of factors, from involvement in school clubs, orchestras, choirs and arts classes outside school, to whether they had visited museums, been to concerts or read on their own.

They found that the more of these activities the teenagers were involved in, the less likely they were to report being engaged in antisocial behavior — ranging from misbehaving at school, to getting into fights, to criminalized behavior such as stealing and selling drugs — both at the time of the first survey and when they were asked again about antisocial behaviour two years later.

The team also found that teenagers and young people who were more engaged in the arts were likely to have better self-control scores and view antisocial behavior negatively. These outcomes have previously been found to make young people less likely to engage in antisocial and criminalized behaviors.

The research was carried out as part of the EpiArts Lab, a National Endowment for the Arts Research Lab based at UF.

Senior author Daisy Fancourt, associate professor of psychobiology and epidemiology at UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care, said: “Past research has shown that getting involved in the arts can have a big impact on teenagers’ mental health and well-being.

“Our study adds to evidence about the wide-ranging benefits that arts and culture can have for young people, demonstrating a positive link between the arts and a lower prevalence of antisocial behavior,” Fancourt said.

“Notably, these findings remained even when taking into account factors such as children’s age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background, their parents’ educational background, where they lived and their previous patterns of antisocial behaviours.”

Lead author Jess Bone, research fellow in epidemiology and statistics at UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care, said: “The definition of arts and cultural engagement was very broad. It included dancing and acting in school clubs, reading, going to cinemas, museums, concerts and music classes, as well as other hobbies that teenagers took part in regularly.”

“Finding ways to reduce antisocial behaviour among teenagers is important because these behaviors may become established and continue into adulthood, affecting someone’s whole life.”

“Our findings demonstrate the importance of making arts and cultural activities available for all young people, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has limited access to and funding for these resources,” Bone said.

Jill Sonke, research director at the UF Center for Arts in Medicine and U.S. principal investigator at the EpiArts Lab, shared a further outcome of the research inquiry.

“Our research team took time to consider the broader social implications of our findings,” Sonke said. “In this publication we offer an alternative to the very problematic term ‘delinquency’ that has been used to describe behaviors that can be maladaptive but that can also be adaptive, especially among young people who have experienced trauma. We hope this more holistic view will help change the patterned language that labels young people and can, in itself, limit health and well-being.”

Researchers looked at data from two U.S.-based longitudinal studies, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health and the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, whose participants were nationally representative. The research team analyzed questionnaires filled in by teenagers and their parents between 1988 and 2002. The average age of participants at the start of these studies was 14 years to 15 years.

In one of the cohorts, about half of adolescents reported engaging in antisocial and criminalized behaviors in the last 12 months. The average number of times participants engaged in these behaviors over the year was 1.6.

Although the researchers found that arts engagement was linked to fewer positive perceptions of antisocial behavior and better self-control scores, they could not conclude that these factors were causally responsible for the association between arts engagement and antisocial behavior as the study was observational.

Nonetheless, in considering mechanisms through which the arts could reduce antisocial behavior, the researchers cited previous studies showing improvements from arts engagement including increased empathy, more prosocial behavior, reduced boredom and improved self-esteem, as well as better emotion regulation.

The research was funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Pabst Steinmetz Foundation and Arts Council England.

Notes to Editors

Jessica K. Bone, Feifei Bu, Meg E. Fluharty, Elise Paul, Jill K. Sonke, Daisy Fancourt, Arts and Cultural Engagement, Reportedly Antisocial or Criminalized Behaviors, and Potential Mediators in Two Longitudinal Cohorts of Adolescents’, will be published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence on Wednesday 23 March 2022, 01:00 UK time / Tuesday 22 March 2022, 21:00 US Eastern time and is under a strict embargo until this time

The DOI will be 10.1007/s10964-022-01591-8

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About the EpiArts Lab

The EpiArts Lab is a National Endowment for the Arts Research Lab that is exploring the impact of arts and cultural engagement on population health outcomes in the US through epidemiological analyses of US cohort studies. The Lab builds upon the epidemiological research conducted by Daisy Fancourt at University College London in the UK, and on the UF Center for Arts in Medicine’s two-year initiative, Creating Healthy Communities: Arts + Public Health in America, designed to drive cross-sector collaboration among the public health, community development, and arts sectors.