Does Art Make People Nicer?
By Sheila Eldred, Discovery Channel
Want people to be altruistic, tolerant, and open-minded? Expose them to the arts.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago report that people who engage in the arts — or even those who see others engaging in the arts — contribute more to society than those who don’t.
And, despite earlier studies to the contrary, Generation X respondents in this research were more civically engaged than older people.
Lead researcher Kelly LeRoux, assistant professor of public administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago, got her data from the 2002 General Social Survey, in which a national sample of 2,765 randomly selected adults participated.
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.
To determine social tolerance, the researchers measured both acceptance for gender orientation and race, rating comments on what kind of books would be acceptable in a library, for example. To measure altruistic behavior, the researchers looked at things such as whether people donated blood or gave directions to strangers.
Arts exposure was defined as going to museums or music, opera and theater events; arts expression was defined as making or performing art.
“If policymakers are concerned about a decline in community life, the arts shouldn’t be disregarded as a means to promote an active citizenry,” said LeRoux, who plans to repeat the study once 2012 data is collected. “Our positive findings could strengthen the case for government support for the arts.”