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We carry out world-class research into how the arts, culture and heritage affect mental and physical health.


Behavioural Science

Understanding patterns and predictors of engagement in the arts


We are working to understand who engages in the arts and how this engagement is patterned based on individual characteristics, the contexts in which we live and grow, and geographical factors. We look at how engagement changes across the life-course and how it is associated with other social and leisure behaviours. In particular, we focus on identifying barriers and enablers to engagement in the arts using behaviour change frameworks, and how these vary for different populations. Our research includes both qualitative and quantitative methods. We also run large-scale Citizen Science experiments gathering data from over 100,000 individuals to date to understand more about our creative behaviours.

"The research generated by the Centre will help us scale effective arts interventions, integrate them into the healthcare sector and ultimately support people's physical and mental health throughout their lives."


Dr Daisy Fancourt, Director

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Clinical trials & implementation science

Designing, testing and rolling out bespoke arts in health programmes


We design and test new arts programmes for specific clinical outcomes, run clinical trials to test their efficacy, and then work to implement them in a sustainable and scalable way. In recent years we have worked on programmes including drumming for depression, singing for postnatal depression, choirs for people affected by cancer, dance for Parkinson’s, and magic for hemiplegia. We specialise in exploring psychological and physiological outcomes including through testing of heart rate, blood pressure, saliva, and blood samples. We work closely with dozens of NHS hospital trusts and world-leading arts organisations and some of our programmes are now available on the NHS. We are also working on the roll-out of Social Prescribing (‘arts on prescription’), evaluating the impact on patient outcomes and health service utilisation. 



Using large data sets to explore the population-level long-term effects of arts engagement


We use advanced statistical analyses to explore associations between arts and cultural engagement and the prevention and management of mental and physical illness in datasets including UK and US cohort studies and patient electronic medical records. Our work has shown associations between arts engagement and reduced incidence of depression, childhood behavioural problems, chronic pain, frailty, cognitive decline, age-related disability and premature mortality as well as higher wellbeing, self-esteem and healthy behaviours. Our results are independent of factors that could explain these associations such as wealth, education, behaviours and other leisure activities. We also work closely on biological outcomes, showing the relationship between the arts and neuroendocrine and immune response and identifying how arts and social engagement moderate the relationship between genetic risk factors and health outcomes and the expression of our genes (epigenetics).

"The unprecedented work of UCL in this field has changed our understanding of the immense power contained within arts and cultural engagement to influence health. WHO ARCH will bring this work to the forefront of public health.”

Dr Nils Fietje, Technical Officer, WHO

Article 27: "Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”

Universal Declaration of Human Rights


Complexity Science

Identifying and testing arts in health ingredients, mechanisms and moderators


The arts are complex activities, so we are developing new theoretical models to understand how and why the arts affect us. We are currently mapping the ‘active ingredients’ or ‘components’ involved in arts and cultural participation to support the development and comparison of different activities. We have also identified over 600 ‘mechanisms of action’ by which arts and other leisure activities can affect health outcomes and dozens of ‘moderators’ that help determine which mechanisms are activated in different contexts. We use the lens of ‘complexity science’, which draws on programme theory, ecological theory and systems theory to conceptualise these relationships.

Research papers

We regularly publish papers in peer-reviewed academic journals. These can be viewed on the Psychobiology Group page of the University College London main website.

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