NEA Research Labs: The Arts, Health, and Social/Emotional Well-Being

Overview

Each of our Labs on the “Arts, Health, and Social/Emotional Well-Being” focus on at least two of the following research questions under “Therapeutic Approaches and Benefits” or “Non-Therapeutic Approaches and Benefits”:

Therapeutic Approaches and Benefits

  • What changes in physical or mental health outcomes are experienced by subjects receiving creative arts therapies to treat one or more diseases, disorders, or health conditions?
  • What is the physiological or psychological mechanism of action for a creative arts therapy in treating a disease or disorder or in improving symptoms for a chronic disease, disorder, or health condition?
  • What are the comparative therapeutic benefits of creative arts therapies relative to each other or to non-arts-based interventions?
  • What is the comparative cost-effectiveness of a creative arts therapy and one or more non-arts-based interventions?
  • How does dosage (i.e., frequency, duration, or intensity) of a creative arts therapy relate to individual or program-level outcomes?
  • How does the creative arts therapy benefit caregivers or family members?

Non-Therapeutic Approaches and Benefits

  • What are the social, emotional, physical, and/or physiological health benefits of the arts for individuals, groups, or societies?
  • What physiological or psychological mechanisms or group dynamics are at work in achieving those benefits or related outcomes?
  • What kinds of art forms are invoked in these relationships, and at what levels of participation?
  • How do these benefits or related outcomes vary by age, socioeconomic characteristics, other demographic and behavioral patterns, and/or by health or disability status?
  • How do these benefits and related outcomes compare with those achieved by other health and wellness strategies or interventions?

Current NEA Research Labs

Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Principal Investigator: Tamara Underiner, PhD

Arizona State University will develop a new Caregiving Research Initiative within its Creative Health Collaborations research hub, which will examine the role of three different art forms in supporting three different caregiving contexts. The art forms and contexts are: 1) theater-making for parents and families of children with special needs, 2) technology-enhanced narrative expression for families of cancer patients, and 3) music for families of veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. The Lab's keystone study will be conducted in partnership with Childsplay Theatre Company in Tempe, Arizona. Products likely to result from this Lab include: peer-review research journal publications, conference presentations, a best-practices guide for potential collaborators and a workbook or manual that may be used by other theater companies developing their own programming for working with families of special-needs children, and tools for the caregivers themselves.

The research agenda aims to address the following research questions:

  1. What are the social, emotional, physical, and/or physiological health benefits of participating in the arts for individuals, groups, or societies?
  2. What physiological or psychological mechanisms or group dynamics are at work in achieving those benefits or related outcomes?
  3. What kinds of art forms are invoked in these relationships, and at what levels of participation?
  4. How do these benefits or related outcomes vary by one's age, socioeconomic characteristics, other demographic and behavioral patterns, and/or by health or disability status?

Other Key Personnel

  • David Coon, PhD
  • Elizabeth Reifsnider, PhD
  • Stephani Etheridge Woodson, PhD
  • Shelby Langer, PhD

Arizona State University logo


Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA
Principal Investigator: Girija Kaimal, EdD, MA

Drexel University will develop a NEA Research Lab titled Arts Research on Chronic Stress Lab (ARCS) to explore the intersection of the arts, health, and social/emotional well-being. Research studies in the ARCS lab will focus on therapeutic art-making, creative arts therapies and connect with community-based arts organizations to enhance social engagement and overall well-being in individuals who have been affected by chronic stressors including chronic illness, prolonged caregiving, academic stressors and trauma, as well as testing the effects of creative arts therapies in pediatric cancer care settings, for post-surgical pain management and opioid usage, and for military service members who have post-traumatic stress and/or traumatic brain injury. The studies use interdisciplinary mixed methods experimental designs, incorporate a range of data sources (biomarkers, standardized surveys, narratives, artwork and music) and examine short term and long-term health outcomes. The Drexel team will collaborate and consult with arts practitioners from a range of sites in the Philadelphia and Washington DC region as well as sites affiliated with the Arts Endowment's Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network.

The research agenda aims to address the following research questions:

  1. What are the social and/or emotional-related health benefits of participating in the arts for individuals, groups, or societies?;
  2. What physiological or psychological mechanisms or group dynamics are at work in achieving those benefits or related outcomes?; and
  3. How do these benefits or related outcomes vary by one's socioeconomic characteristics, demographics and behavioral patterns, and one's stage of life?

Other Key Personnel

  • Joke Bradt, PhD, MT-BC

For more information on this Lab, see their Research Lab webpage.

 


George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Principal Investigator: Thalia Goldstein, PhD

The George Mason University Arts Research Center (“MasonARC”) is a multidisciplinary research center involving the expertise of three faculty members at George Mason University, with a research focus on arts engagement, child development, and education. Studies will examine the outcomes of arts education in low-income, ethnically diverse high school students; the effect of theatre training on social skills; and students’ sense of agency. Additionally, the research center will involve public engagement and distribution of research through a website and a regularly updated blog on arts research across domains, and a biennial conference on the latest research and practice in arts and child development. The MasonARC includes strong arts partnerships with two of Virginia’s most established arts education and producing nonprofits (Virginia Repertory Theatre and the Mason Community Arts Academy).

The research agenda will address the following research questions:

  1. What are the social and/or emotional-related health benefits of participating in the arts?;
  2. What psychological mechanisms or group dynamics are at work in achieving those benefits or related outcomes?;
  3. What kinds of art forms are invoked in these relationships, and at what levels of participation?; and
  4. How do these benefits or related outcomes vary by age, socioeconomic characteristics, other demographics and behavioral patterns, and/or disability status?

Other Key Personnel

  • Adam Winsler, PhD
  • Kimberly Sheridan, EdD

For more information on this Lab, see their Research Lab webpage.

George Mason University logo


Rice University, Houston, TX
Principal Investigator: Christopher Fagundes, PhD

In partnership with Musiqa, Rice University will establish a research hub for measuring the effects of music-making and music engagement on cognitive and social-emotional well-being. The Lab's keystone study—a randomized, waitlist-control trial—will examine older adults with mild cognitive impairment who will undergo a six-week course combining musical exposure, creativity, and performance. The program culminates in creation of a final composition, with participants performing to family, caregivers, and members of the community. Outcome measures will include pre- and post-intervention assessments on intelligence and cognitive flexibility; loneliness, social support, and perceived psychological stress; and neural markers such as brain modularity and flexibility. The researchers hypothesize that the program studied under the Research Lab can provide a model for addressing the need for low-cost, nonpharmacological interventions for cognitive impaired patients and their caregivers.

The research agenda will address the following research aims:

  1. To study the cognitive and mental health outcomes experienced by cognitively impaired subjects receiving a music-based intervention;
  2. To study the physiological (brain-based) mechanism of action for a music-based intervention in improving or slowing the decline of cognitively impaired patients; and
  3. To conduct a survey of how music interventions benefits the social and emotional well-being of caregivers and affects their ability to look after their cognitively impaired charges.

Other Key Personnel

  • Anthony Brandt, PhD
  • Bryan Denny, PhD

For more information on this Lab, see their Research Lab webpage.

Rice University logo


Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX
Principal Investigator: Noel Zahler, DMA

Texas Tech's Talkington College of Visual and Performing Arts will advance research projects as part of its Arts Initiative in Medicine program. The Lab will pair arts-based therapies with neuropsychological methods of investigation such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and psychophysiological data systems, which analyze heart rate, skin conductance, eye tracking, and facial EMG. Its keystone study will involve a team of artists, clinicians, and electronic media faculty in developing and testing a visual arts-based app (using interactive virtual reality) as a rehabilitative tool for stroke survivors with aphasia. The researchers will examine changes in these patients' cognitive and emotional processing by tracking heart rate, sympathetic nervous system activation, skin conductance, and brain activity. Future research studies under this Research Lab would extend to various clinical populations, e.g., patients with ADHD, Alzheimer's disease and dementia, language impairments, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Nonprofit arts partners include Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts and the Museum of Texas Tech University.

The research agenda will address the following research questions:

  1. What changes in physical or mental health outcomes are experienced by subjects receiving creative arts therapies to treat one or more disease, disorder, or health conditions?; and
  2. What are the physiological or psychological mechanism of action for a creative arts therapy in treating a disease or disorder or improving symptoms for a chronic disease, disorder, or health condition?

Other Key Personnel

  • Stacey Elko, MFA
  • Justin Keene, PhD
  • Melinda Corwin, PhD
  • John Velez, PhD

For more information on this Lab, see their Research Lab webpage.

Texas Tech logo


University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR
Principal Investigator: Jay Greene, PhD

Researchers at the Character Assessment Initiative at the University of Arkansas' Department of Education Reform will team up with George Mason University’s Social Cognition and Imagination Lab to develop a NEA Research Lab on “The Arts, Health, and Social/Emotional Well-Being”. The lab will study fourth- and fifth-graders who either do or do not attend arts-related field trips. This research has the potential to identify how disadvantaged students might be affected by out-of-school arts experiences. Further, the project could yield future studies of other cognitive and emotional outcomes associated with arts-enriched education.

The research agenda will address the following research questions:

  1. Do multiple field trips per year to arts institutions affect elementary school students' social and emotional outcomes?;
  2. Do these observed outcomes vary by the students' socioeconomic and other characteristics?; and
  3. Will longitudinal analysis show enduring effects on these outcomes over several years?

Other Key Personnel

  • Thalia Goldstein, PhD

For more information on this Lab, see their Research Lab webpage.

 


University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Principal Investigator: Robert Bilder, PhD

The Research Lab at UCLA will develop a reliable, valid, flexible, and scalable Arts Impact Measurement System (AIMS), an assessment tool for integration with mobile devices. Using psychometrics, AIMS will measure self-reported health and well-being outcomes associated with arts participation. The assessment tool will be pilot-tested in partnership with Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz (in public-school outreach programs) and on campus arts-engagement experiences to promote well-being among students, staff, and faculty—in partnership with the Semel Mindful Music program. The researchers intend to make the tool freely available to the international arts community, and will facilitate public release of the data, after safeguarding for confidentiality and privacy protections. This project lays the groundwork for greater translational research focused on understanding the fundamental cognitive and biological mechanisms by which the arts affect well-being.

The research agenda aims to address the following research questions:

  1. What are the social, emotional, physical, and/or physiological health benefits of participating in the arts for individuals, groups, or societies?
  2. What physiological or psychological mechanisms or group dynamics are at work in achieving those benefits or related outcomes?

Other Key Personnel

  • Armen Arevian, MD, PhD
  • Ariana Anderson, PhD

UCLA logo


University of Colorado Denver, Aurora, CO
Principal Investigator: Marc Moss, MD

As part of its research agenda, University of Colorado Denver will develop and test a series of creative arts therapy programs designed to build resilience among critical care health professionals. The programs will use qualitative, mixed-method, and randomized controlled study designs and will integrate visual arts therapy, music therapy, dance/movement therapy, and writing/poetry therapy. Research activities will include focus groups of important stakeholders, such as critical care providers, intensive care unit managers and hospital administrators, and national critical care leadership. Organization partners include Ponzio Creative Arts Therapy Program at Children's Hospital Colorado and Lighthouse Writers Workshop; these organizations will help to design experimental tasks suitable for each artistic domain and will aid in recruiting participants. Future directions may include studying longer-term treatment effects of creative arts therapies for health care professionals as well as the indirect effects such programs have on patient outcomes.

The research agenda will address the following research questions:

  1. What changes in physical or mental health outcomes are experienced by subjects receiving creative arts therapies?; and
  2. What are the comparative therapeutic benefits of creative arts therapies relative to each other or to non-arts-based interventions?

Other Key Personnel

  • Meredith Mealer, PhD, RN

For more information on this Lab, see their Research Lab webpage.

University of Colorado Denver


University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
Principal Investigator: Jill Sonke, PhD

In partnership with the UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine program and the University College of London, the University of Florida's Center for Arts in Medicine will develop an "EpiArts" Lab to apply epidemiological research approaches to the arts. The Lab will plan and implement a long-term research agenda to explore the relationships between arts/cultural engagement and population health outcomes. Researchers will analyze several large-cohort, longitudinal, and publicly available datasets such as those sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics, and datasets from the Health and Retirement Study and the General Social Survey—both featuring arts and cultural survey items developed by the Arts Endowment. To the extent possible, research questions will consider how arts engagement uniquely contributes to health, above and beyond other types of non-arts engagement. The Lab initially will focus its review on the arts' relationships to mental health and well-being, health behaviors, and non-communicable diseases. Additional research may include targeted experimental studies. Products stemming from the Lab may include peer-review publications, conference presentations, webinars, and infographics to translate the Lab's results to the general public and to leaders in the arts/cultural and health sectors.

The research agenda aims to address the following research questions:

  1. What are the social, emotional, physical, and/or physiological health benefits of participating in the arts for individuals, groups, or societies?
  2. What physiological or psychological mechanisms or group dynamics are at work in achieving those benefits or related outcomes?
  3. What kinds of art forms are invoked in these relationships, and at what levels of participation?
  4. How do these benefits or related outcomes vary by one's age, socioeconomic characteristics, other demographic and behavioral patterns, and/or by health or disability status?

Other Key Personnel

  • Daisy Fancourt, PhD

University of FLorida logo


University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Principal Investigator: James Pawelski, PhD

In partnership with Philadelphia Museum of Art and researchers at other universities, the Research Lab at University of Pennsylvania will examine the relationship between "immersive" visual arts experiences and psychological well-being. In a field-based experiment, university students will be randomly assigned to one of three conditions lasting several weeks: a museum immersion group (receiving instructions for the "mindful" viewing of artworks in a museum); a museum non-immersion control group (receiving no specific instructions while visiting a museum), and a non-museum control group (i.e., not visiting a museum). An additional substudy will include real-time assessment of subjects' behaviors and experiences—both in their daily lives and while undergoing one of the three conditions in the field experiment. For several days before and during the experiment, participants will answer questions about their immersive arts experiences and about their emotional states. A follow-up study will include neuroimaging of participants from the museum immersion and non-museum control groups. Additional studies will include analysis of data from social media platforms and the conduct of a nationally representative survey. Part of the Humanities and Human Flourishing Project at the University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology Center, the Lab's future projects may entail experimental studies of immersive arts experiences in music, literature, theater, and film.

The research agenda aims to address the following research questions:

  1. What are the social, emotional, physical, and/or physiological health benefits of participating in the arts for individuals, groups, or societies?
  2. What physiological or psychological mechanisms or group dynamics are at work in achieving those benefits or related outcomes?
  3. What kinds of art forms are invoked in these relationships, and at what levels of participation?

Other Key Personnel

  • Louis Tay, PhD
  • Ellen Winner, PhD

University of Pennsylvania logo


Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN
Principal Investigator: Miriam Lense, PhD

Vanderbilt University Medical Center will conduct studies in partnership with Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders, Nashville Symphony Orchestra, Nashville Opera, and VSA Tennessee, the state organization on the arts and disability. One set of studies include a randomized-waitlist control trial of a community-based music program (named SeRenade) designed to foster active engagement of parents and children with autism through shared musical experiences; follow up studies aim to test whether child and parent outcomes vary by treatment type: individual parent-child music training only, SeRenade only, and combining individual training with the SeRenade program. Separate studies include a national survey of music engagement by families with and without autistic children, and a study that highlights the impact of psychoeducational songwriting for the well-being of parents with children who have developmental disabilities. VUMC will host a quarterly Music Research Forums to promote the development and refinement of the Lab studies, as well as design a publicly available, manualized music-based curriculum for children with developmental disabilities and their parents.

The research agenda will address the following research questions:

  1. What are the social and emotional benefits of a therapeutic music program for children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and for their parents?;
  2. What are the mechanism of action and group dynamics by which music engagement improves social and emotional well-being and builds empathy and acceptance among families with and without ASD?; and
  3. How does musical engagement differ in a large, national sample including families of children with and without developmental, medical, and mental health conditions?

Other Key Personnel

  • Pablo Juárez, MEd
  • Mark Wallace, PhD
  • Elizabeth May Dykens, PhD

For more information on this Lab, see their Research Lab webpage

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