Art offers new perspectives on universal issues. It teaches empathy, often evokes strong emotions, and inspires critical thinking. It should come as no surprise that it also makes us kinder.
That’s per a new study by psychologists at the University of Kent (and one psychologist at the University of Lincoln) that shows art can act as a social and psychological catalyst. The researchers found that people who had greater engagement with the arts were more likely to volunteer and give to charity.
The study, entitled The Arts as a Catalyst for Human Prosociality and Cooperation, used data from an annual national longitudinal survey of 30,476 people in the U.K. conducted by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The researchers looked at the relationship between charitable giving and various demographics such as gender and personal income; personality qualities like openness; and other interests like sports engagement. According to a press release, the study found that arts participation and attendance were, respectively, “among the strongest predictors of charitable giving and volunteering,” beating out all of the above categories.
One suggestion from the researchers, based on their results? That policy-makers invest in the arts and make them accessible for all people–not just the wealthy. Considering the correlation, the researchers also suggested that the arts can help societies counter economic, cultural and political divisions.
In other words, for arts to make people more giving, our government first has to give to the arts.
In the U.S., the Trump administration has vowed to do the opposite, instead pledging to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Last month, however, supporters of these cultural agencies got a minor victory as a House Bill that would continue to fund them won approval from the House appropriations committee. The Republican-led Senate will still need to weigh in later this year—but perhaps our new government will be forced to be charitable, after all.