Arts education not only leads children to think more creatively, but a new study suggests it may also help them become more socially responsible.
People with an active interest in the arts contribute more to society than those with little or no such interest, according the study conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The study takes into consideration arts exposure, defined as attendance at museums and dance, music, opera and theater events; and arts expression, defined as making or performing art.
“Even after controlling for age, race and education, we found that participation in the arts, especially as audience, predicted civic engagement, tolerance and altruism,” said Kelly LeRoux, assistant professor of public administration at UIC and principal investigator on the study.
In contrast to earlier studies, Generation X respondents were found to be more civically engaged than older people.
LeRoux’s data came from the General Social Survey, conducted since 1972 by the National Data Program for the Sciences, known by its original initials, NORC. A national sample of 2,765 randomly selected adults participated.
“We correlated survey responses to arts-related questions to responses on altruistic actions — like donating blood, donating money, giving directions, or doing favors for a neighbor — that place the interests of others over the interests of self,” LeRoux said. “We looked at ‘norms of civility.’ Previous studies have established norms for volunteering and being active in organizations.”
The researchers measured participation in neighborhood associations, church and religious organizations, civic and fraternal organizations, sports groups, charitable organizations, political parties, professional associations and trade unions.
The study was based on data from 2002, the most recent year in which the General Social Survey covered arts participation. LeRoux plans to repeat the study with results from the 2012 survey, which will include arts data.
The UIC research was part of a nationwide effort funded by the National Endowment for the Arts to learn how individuals’ exposure to the arts affects American society. Fifteen institutions across the country designed and conducted various studies.