The report stresses, however, that the link between art attendance and better health outcomes does not mean that art attendance causes those outcomes, but rather that there is a correlation between the two.
Surprisingly, the study found that adults who reported only attending cultural activities, from those related to art to theater to film, had levels of overall wellbeing similar or close to those who attended cultural events and created art.
To reach that conclusion, the authors used 2014 data from the government-administered Health and Retirement Study’s new Culture and Arts module. The pair broke respondents down into three groups: those who attended art exhibitions, those who created art, and those who both created and attended art. They compared these cohorts with respondents who did no art-related activity at all.
To assess health, the study looked at the “measurable outcomes” of cognitive function, physical ability, and cardiovascular health. Cognitive health was measured by self-reported memory and functioning, whereas physical ability was gauged in terms of limitations in daily activity, and cardiovascular health on self-reported hypertension or high blood pressure.
Simply identifying with positive statements about appreciating or enjoying art was also correlated with lower hypertension rates, lower physical disability, and increased cognitive function overall. Appreciating the arts was also linked to a slower rate of decline in all three areas. In terms of attitudes towards art, Rekha Rajan said that there was value even for participants who simply reported that they appreciated the arts or just saw them as important.