The Arts and Human Development
Human development describes a complex web of factors affecting the health and well-being of individuals across the lifespan. Together, these factors yield cognitive and behavioral outcomes that can shape the social and economic circumstances of individuals, their levels of creativity and productivity, and overall quality of life.
Increasingly in the 21st century, U.S. policy leaders in health and education have recognized a need for strategies and interventions to address “the whole person.” They have urged a more integrated approach to policy development—one that can reach Americans at various stages of their lives, across generations, and in multiple learning contexts.
The arts are ideally suited to promote this integrated approach. In study after study, arts participation and arts education have been associated with improved cognitive, social, and behavioral outcomes in individuals across the lifespan: in early childhood, in adolescence and young adulthood, and in later years. The studies include:
- Neuroscience research showing strong connections between arts learning and improved cognitive development;
- Small comparison group studies revealing the arts’ contributions to school-readiness in early childhood;
- Longitudinal data analyses demonstrating positive academic and social outcomes for at-risk teenagers who receive arts education; and
- Several studies reporting improvements in cognitive function and self-reported quality of life for older adults who engage in the arts and creative activities, compared to those who do not.
This emerging body of evidence appears to support a need for greater integration of arts activities into health and educational programs for children, youth, and older adults. Yet further research is necessary so that policymakers and practitioners can understand the pathways and processes by which the arts affect human development, thereby enhancing the efficacy of arts-based practices in optimizing health and educational outcomes for Americans of all ages. [Executive Summary p. 7]
On March 14, 2011, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hosted a convening in Washington, DC to showcase some of the nation’s most compelling studies and evidence-based programs that have identified cognitive, social, and behavioral outcomes from arts interventions.
This resulting white paper proposes a framework for long-term collaboration among the NEA, HHS, and oth - er federal agencies to build capacity for future research and evidence-sharing about the arts’ role in human development. A worthy aim of that collaboration is to foster data-driven models for including the arts in poli - cies and programs that seek to improve the well-being of Americans at different stages of their lives.