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

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

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.

Drexel Univeristy logo

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 A & M University, College Station, TX
Principal Investigator: Daniel Bowen, PhD

Researchers at Texas A & M University and the University of Missouri will develop an NEA Research Lab dedicated to high-impact, experimental, practitioner-engaged, policy-relevant studies focused on youth. Specifically, the researchers will incorporate a research-practitioner model into their research agenda, which includes a collaboration with Arts Connect, a collective impact initiative, based in Houston, Texas, that unites more than 30 local arts and cultural organizations, the Houston Independent School District, the City of Houston's Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs, and local philanthropic foundations working to ensure that all children from the Greater Houston community have access to the arts. In their keystone study, researchers will conduct a randomized-controlled trial with the Houston Ballet to examine the social and emotional effects of participating in a semester-long high energy dance and movement program for children in elementary schools serving high proportions of low-income, Hispanic students. Products likely to result from this Lab include: an annual convening to share the Lab's progress and findings and engage attendees in refining the Lab's future research projects and agenda; research resources and products that promote research and data-sharing, transparency, and replicability; peer-review research journal publications; and conference presentations.

The research agenda will address the following research questions:

  • What are the socioemotional benefits of children's participation in participatory dance?; and
  • Do these benefits vary by children's socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, sex/gender, special education program eligibility, and prior academic achievement?

Other Key Personnel

  • Brian Kisida, PhD
Texas A&M 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

  • 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 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
  • Heidi Holmes, 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 electronic assessment application software 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/Los Angeles Unified School District Jazz Academy (in public-school outreach programs) and on campus arts-engagement experiences to promote well-being among students, staff, and faculty at UCLA—in partnership with the Semel Mindful Music program. To the extent possible, the researchers intend to make the application created under the Lab 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.

U Colorado logo

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

The UF Center for Arts in Medicine program will partner with UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine program to 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 host three virtual roundtable convenings of national arts and public health stakeholders to identify priority research questions and outcomes for analysis, and then will analyze several large-cohort, longitudinal, and publicly available, deidentified 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 or other virtual or in-person events, websites/webpages, or infographics to translate the Lab's results to the general public and to leaders in the arts/cultural and health sectors. Such products also may include research reports, white papers, policy briefs, guides or toolkits, blogs, and opinion/reflection pieces.

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

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

University of FLorida logo

University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA
Principal Investigator: Aston McCullough, PhD

Researchers with the Laboratory for the Scientific Study of Dance (LAB:SYNC) at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and its nonprofit arts partner Five College Dance, will develop, refine, and validate a battery of dance exposure measurement tools such as computer vision (2D/3D cameras), wearable sensors, self-report perceptual measures, and physiological assessments of health. Also, the Lab will disseminate key reports on the relationship between dance and health, and it will provide other researchers with access to a multivariable database to facilitate original analyses of dance exposures and health outcomes in adults. In keeping with its research agenda, the Lab will conduct additional studies to investigate how lifetime exposures to dance are related to physical and mental health outcomes in adults of different age groups and with different levels of exposure to dance training. Additional products likely to result from this Lab include: peer-review research journal publications, conference presentations and other research products to coincide with events such as the annual Dance Science Symposium at UMass Amherst and the American College Dance Association Conference, and quarterly newsletter articles that will share the Lab's progress and research findings with the public.

The research agenda aims to address the following research questions:

  1. What are the social, emotional, physical, and/or physiological health benefits of dance for adults?; and
  2. How do these benefits or related outcomes vary by age, socioeconomic characteristics, other demographic and behavioral patterns, and/or by health or disability status?

Other Key Personnel

  • Bruna Martins-Klein, PhD
  • Ravi Ranjan, PhD
University of Massachusetts 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 two conditions lasting several weeks: a museum immersion group (receiving instructions for the "mindful" viewing of artworks in a museum) and a museum non-immersion control group (receiving no specific instructions while 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 two 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. Additional studies will include 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

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

University of Pennsylvania logo

University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI
Principal Investigator: Yorel Lashley, PhD

The University of Wisconsin Community Arts Collaboratory (Arts Collab), in partnership with the Madison Metropolitan School District's Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child Madison program, will conduct mixed-method, waitlist-controlled trials to evaluate social and emotional learning (SEL) outcomes for elementary school students who participate in Arts Collab performing arts programs (dance, creative writing and theater, and drumming). The studies also will measure teacher professional development growth from training in arts integration and SEL. Participating schools include a high percentage of students from marginalized groups, such as students of color, economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, and English language learners. Student outcomes of interest include gains in self-efficacy in art skill, coping and discipline, and sense of community/connection. Among teachers, likely outcomes are greater use and understanding of arts integration and SEL, and reductions in student behavior referrals. Products and services likely to result from this Lab include: four regional arts integration symposia permitting teachers, teaching artists, and community educators to engage with the Lab's research findings through hands-on workshops and data/assessment toolkits; a website, a blog, and social media activity; and conference presentations.

The research agenda will address the following research questions:

  1. What are the social, emotional, and health benefits of performing arts programs for students?;
  2. What physiological or psychological mechanisms or group dynamics are at work in achieving those benefits or related outcomes;
  3. How do these benefits vary by age, socioeconomic characteristics, other demographic and behavioral patterns, and/or by health or disability status?; and
  4. How do classroom teachers change as a result of their experiences with arts and social-emotional learning integration in professional development, coaching, and mentorship?

Other Key Personnel

  • Kate Corby, MFA
  • Erica Halverson, PhD
University of Wisconsin logo

West Chester University of Pennsylvania, West Chester, PA
Principal Investigator: Eleanor Brown, PhD

West Chester University of Pennsylvania, in partnership with research firm WolfBrown, will establish the Research on Equity via the Arts in Childhood (REACH) Lab to advance scientific understanding of how arts experiences may foster positive self-regulation outcomes (both physiological and self-reported outcomes) as well as promote equity for young children facing the effects of poverty, racism, and related forms of adversity. Researchers will examine outcomes of arts participation as related to three different contexts: 1) interactions with caregivers in toddlerhood, 2) pre-school classrooms, and 3) out-of-school instruction following school entry. Research methods to address these questions include correlational, quasi-experimental, and experimental designs featuring a blend of observational systems, laboratory assessments, and neurophysiological measures. The REACH Lab will develop a website, post quarterly blog posts, host a biennial convening, produce research reports, create applied tools with accompanying toolkits, as well as train undergraduate students in rigorous methods for studying the health benefits of arts engagement from a behavioral neuroscience approach. Partnering arts organizations include Settlement Music School, Carnegie Hall, and Play on Philly. Research findings will guide refinement of these partnering organizations' program offerings.

The research agenda will address the following research questions:

  1. Do high-quality musical experiences improve young children's capacity for self-regulation?;
  2. Are music-related improvements in self-regulation mediated or explained by changes in children's neurophysiological function?;
  3. What specific aspects of high-quality musical experiences, defined in terms of caregiver/educator behaviors and pedagogical strategies, promote these changes in neurophysiological function and/or capacity for self-regulation?; and
  4. What are the distinct versus common effects of music (either alone or combined with movement) and other arts and non-arts interventions, and at what levels of participation?

Other Key Personnel

  • Dennie Palmer Wolf, PhD
  • Stephen Holochwost, PhD
West Chester University 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. A separate research focus will highlight the impacts of psychoeducational songwriting for the well-being of parents with children who have developmental disabilities. Lab activities are likely to include designing 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?; and
  2. What are the mechanisms of action and group dynamics by which music engagement improves social and emotional well-being for families of children with and without ASD?

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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