Arts engagement can help counter divisions in society


Engagement with the arts can help societies counter economic, cultural and political divisions, new research co-ordinated by psychologists at the University of Kent shows.

The study, which included a psychologist at the University of Lincoln, provides evidence that the arts can act as a key social psychological catalyst that can foster and maintain social co-operation.

Researchers used data from a national UK survey of attitudes to establish that people's greater engagement in the arts predicts 'prosociality', whereby people were more likely to volunteer and give to charity over a two-year period.

Professor Dominic Abrams at Kent's School of Psychology was the corresponding author on the research, entitled The Arts as a Catalyst for Human Prosociality and Cooperation, working with first author Dr Julie Van de Vyver at Lincoln.

The researchers, who also worked with charity People United and were supported by grants from Arts Council England and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), made use of data from the ESRC's Understanding Society annual national longitudinal survey of 30,476 people in the UK.

The team looked at the positive relationship between arts engagement (attendance and participation) and prosociality (charitable giving and volunteering).

They found that engagement in the arts predicted prosociality 'more strongly than a large set of demographic variables such as gender, individual resources such as personal income, core personality such as openness, and sports engagement'.

Arts participation and attendance independently were 'among the strongest predictors of charitable giving and volunteering', the researchers found. Only age and monthly savings had larger effects than arts engagement on charitable giving and only educational level and working hours had a larger effect than arts engagement on volunteering.

Commenting on the finding, Dr Abrams said that it was remarkable that 'regardless of people's age, education, employment and savings their engagement with the arts remained a stronger predictor of their prosociality than did any other variables'. Dr Van de Vyver said that 'it is particularly impressive that people who engaged more with the arts two years earlier continue to show even greater prosociality now'.

The researchers conclude that one implication of their findings for policy-makers is the potential for 'substantial social and economic gains' from investing in the arts. They argue that these may be achieved 'effectively by policies or investments that make the arts more widely available and ensure that access is not restricted only to the wealthy'.

Arts Council England's Director of Communication and Public Policy, Mags Patten, said: 'This paper makes a significant contribution to growing evidence of a causal link between taking part in the arts, individual wellbeing, and the strength of communities. This valuable piece of research will be important reading for those already studying in this vital area, and it should encourage new studies of the social impact of the arts.'

The Arts as a Catalyst for Human Prosociality and Cooperation (Julie Van de Vyver and Dominic Abrams) is published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.


For a copy of the paper or interview requests, contact Martin Herrema at the University of Kent Press Office.
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Notes to editor

1. Professor Dominic Abrams is Professor of Social Psychology and Director of the Centre for the Study of Group Processes. He was recently appointed Vice President for Social Sciences at the British Academy.

2. People United was founded in 2006 by Tom Andrews with a belief that 'the arts and culture have a practical and imaginative role to play in how our society develops'. See:

3. Established in 1965, the University of Kent – the UK's European university – now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome. It has been ranked: 23rd in the Guardian University Guide 2016; 23rd in the Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2016; and 22nd in the Complete University Guide 2015. In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2015-16, Kent is in the top 10% of the world's leading universities for international outlook and 66th in its table of the most international universities in the world. The THE also ranked the University as 20th in its 'Table of Tables' 2016.

Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality. In the National Student Survey 2016, Kent achieved the fourth highest score for overall student satisfaction, out of all publicly funded, multi-faculty universities.

Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium ( The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.

In 2014, Kent received its second Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.

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Martin Herrema
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