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Participating in artistic activities may make teens less antisocial, study finds

Experts say these activities help promote self-control and better overall well-being

Teen girl in ballet class
Photo (c) Mike Harrington - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from University College London explored the mental health benefits associated with teens participating in artistic activities

Their work showed that engaging in activities like dance, orchestras, and acting, among several others, was linked with less antisocial and criminalized behaviors. Teens were also more likely to report better well-being and mental health when participating in these groups. 

“Past research has shown that getting involved in the arts can have a big impact on teenagers’ mental health and well-being,” said researcher Dr. Daisy Fancourt. “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.

“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 behavior.” 

Mental health benefits of artistic activities

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 25,000 teens enrolled in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health and the National Educational Longitudinal Study. Participants and their parents reported on their involvement in arts and culture activities, and the team assessed their mental health and well-being at several points over the course of the study. 

“Our definition of arts and cultural engagement was very broad,” said researcher Dr. Jess Bone. “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.” 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that there was a positive correlation between participating in artistic activities and reduced antisocial and criminal behaviors. Teens were less likely to sell drugs, misbehave in school, or get into fights. They also reported viewing these behaviors in a negative light and reported stronger self-control. 

Overall, teens had better overall mental health and well-being when they spent more time involved with the arts. This was true even one and two years removed from participating in such activities. 

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

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