Teenager’s Engagement With Art Activities Reduces Their Antisocial Behaviour

June 08, 2023; Unhurry Expert Research Team

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 behaviour up to two years later, according to a new study by UCL (University College London) and University of Florida researchers.

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

Teenagers engaged in arts have better self-control

For the research, teenagers’ overall engagement with art activities based on a wide range of factors was measured. These included involvement in school clubs, orchestras, choirs, and art classes outside school, to whether they had visited museums or been to converts or read on their own.

They discovered that the more of these activities the teenagers participated in, the less likely it was for them to report engaging in antisocial behaviour, which can include fighting, misbehaving at school, and criminal behaviour like stealing and selling drugs, both at the time of the initial survey and when they were asked again about antisocial behaviour one and two years later.

The research team also discovered that young people who were more involved in the arts tended to score higher on self-control tests and had negative views of antisocial behaviours. Previous research has shown that these results reduce young people’s propensity to engage in criminalised and antisocial behaviour.

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

Getting involved in arts can have a big impact on teenager’s mental health

“Past research has shown that getting involved in the arts can have a big impact on teenagers’ mental health and wellbeing,” said Senior author Dr Daisy Fancourt (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care).

“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 behaviour,” she 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,” Fancourt added.

Hobbies of teenagers included in ‘art and culture’

“Our 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,” said Lead author Dr Jess Bone (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care).

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

Arts engagement increases empathy; improves self-esteem

The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health and the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, both of which included nationally representative participants, were two US-based longitudinal studies that the researchers examined for their data. The research team examined survey responses from parents and teenagers between 1988 and 2002. At the beginning of these investigations, the participants’ average age was between 14 and 15 years old.

About half of the teenagers in one of the cohorts said they had engaged in criminalised and antisocial behaviour in the previous year. Over the course of the year, participants exhibited this behaviour 1.6 times on average.

The association between arts engagement and antisocial behaviour was discovered by the researchers, but because the study was observational, they were unable to draw the conclusion that these variables were causally responsible for the association between arts engagement and antisocial behaviour.

However, the researchers cited earlier research showing benefits from arts engagement, such as increased empathy, more prosocial behaviour, reduced boredom, and improved self-esteem, as well as better emotion regulation, when considering mechanisms by which the arts could reduce antisocial behaviour.

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

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Story Source:

Materials provided by University College London. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Jessica K. Bone, Feifei Bu, Meg E. Fluharty, Elise Paul, Jill K. Sonke, Daisy Fancourt. Arts and Cultural Engagement, Reportedly Antisocial or Criminalized Behaviours, and Potential Mediators in Two Longitudinal Cohorts of Adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 2022; DOI: 10.1007/s10964-022-01591-8

Page citation:

University College London. “Arts activities may improve self-control and reduce antisocial behaviour among teenagers.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 March 2022. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/03/220322221841.htm>.

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