Arts engagement trends in the UK and their mental and social wellbeing implications: HEartS survey

Tymoszuk, U. and Spiro, N. and Perkins, R. and Mason-Bertrand, A. and Gee, K. and Williamon, A. (2021) Arts engagement trends in the UK and their mental and social wellbeing implications: HEartS survey. PLOS One, 16. e0246078. ISSN 1932-6203


Evidence on the role of the arts in promoting health and wellbeing has grown over the last two decades. In the United Kingdom, studies using secondary data sources have documented temporal variations in levels of arts engagement in the population, its determinants and its mental wellbeing implications. However, arts engagement is often characterized by prioritizing “high-brow” art forms. In this article, we introduce the HEartS Survey, a tool that aims to increase the balance between inclusivity and brevity of existing arts engagement measures and to focus specifically on the connection between arts engagement and social wellbeing. We explore trends in participatory and receptive engagement with literary, visual, performing, crafts and decorative arts among 5,338 adults in the UK in 2018–2019 using summative engagement scores and cluster analysis. Regression models, adjusted for demographic, socioeconomic, health, and social covariates, examine correlations between arts engagement and psychological and social wellbeing measures. Over 97% of respondents reported engagement in one or more arts activities at least once during 2018–2019, with reading and listening to music being the most popular activities. Arts engagement grouped into three distinct clusters: 19.8% constituted “low engagers” whose main source of engagement was occasional reading; 44.4% constituted “receptive consumers” who read and listened to music frequently and engaged with popular receptive arts activities such as cinema, live music, theater, exhibitions, and museums; and 35.8% constituted “omnivores” who frequently engaged in almost all arts activities. In agreement with existing studies, more arts engagement was associated with higher levels of wellbeing, social connectedness, and lower odds of intense social loneliness. In contrast, we found a positive association between more arts engagement, depression, and intense emotional loneliness for the most highly engaged omnivores. We conclude that arts engagement in the population forms specific profiles with distinct characteristics and consider implications for mental and social wellbeing.

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