There’s nothing like the backing of scientists to give credence to something we may already believe in. So, it is with great glee that I can report that Oxford scientists have been studying groups of people taking part in creative activities, including singing, and found that the mental and physical health of all participants had improved by the end of their courses. The group members also reported feeling more satisfaction with their lives as a result of taking part.
For seven months scientists from the University of Oxford followed 135 adults enrolled on art, creative writing and singing courses. At the end of the courses the participants reported noticing a boost in their happiness – in particular when it came to confidence and life satisfaction – and felt more active, even if their course did not include physical activity or promote exercise.
Lead researcher, Dr Eiluned Pearce, said that participants felt that the classes ‘broadened their network of friends and gave them an increased sense of belonging,’ and added, ‘We found that the more someone felt part of their group, the more their health and wellbeing improved.’
From a social aspect, it would seem that singing in particular is a great way to make friends, since those that took part in singing activities developed relationships with their classmates more quickly than those in the other groups.
An extension of this form of study is due to be run by the Centre for Performance Science, a joint venture between the Royal College of Music and Imperial College London. The research project, which has been awarded a grant of £1 million from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, will specifically investigate the link between artistic pursuits, such as joining a choir, and the health and wellbeing of society. Co-investigator of the study, Professor Robert Perneczky, said: ‘We are interested in what hidden benefits the arts and culture may have in terms of improving health. If there are tangible benefits, there may be a case to be made for integrating them more fully within social and health services.’ The interesting thing about this study is that it aims to look deeper into the reasons these activities have such a positive effect on us. Principal investigator, Professor Aaron Williamon, has said: ‘We are keen to discover not only the effects of culture on health and happiness, but why those effects happen. For example, joining a choir after work may improve your health, but is that the result of socialising, creating something or a combination of the two?’