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Relationships between different types and modes of arts-related experiences, motivation, and civic engagement

October 9, 20199 October 2019

Social benefits of the arts

National Endowment for the Arts


Donald J. Polzella and Jeremy S. Forbis, University of Dayton

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Based on U.S. Census data, this study examines the connection between attending different types of arts experiences and pro-social activities, such as making charitable donations, volunteering, attending community meetings, and voting. The research team also sought to determine whether digital arts participation (the most common mode of engagement) has similar effects as live participation.

In a 2013 report, the research team found that “individuals who attend traditional live music performances (jazz, opera, and classical) are more likely to engage in pro-social behaviors”. The broader 2016 report confirmed a key finding of their initial study: the research team concluded “with a high level of confidence” that individuals who attend traditional live musical performances are more likely to engage in pro-social behaviours.

The 2016 report extends the original analysis into arts experiences other than traditional live music. In this regard, the report finds that “individuals who attended other live arts-related events, e.g., dance, theater, art exhibitions, and non-traditional music performances, were also more likely to engage in pro-social behavior”. In other words, the relationship between arts experiences and pro-social behaviour “holds irrespective of the artistic discipline”.

This relationship also holds for digital arts experiences: “individuals who were exposed to the arts through the Internet were also more likely to engage in pro-social behavior”.

Based on their research and a review of other similar studies, the research team concludes that “the link between exposure to the arts and pro-social behavior is based on the social characteristics of these encounters, e.g., shared group identity, familiarity with performers or artists, multimodal sensory experience, etiquette, venue, and customs or rituals”.

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