Why Would Attendance at Art Events Be Associated With Prosocial Behavior?

We so often hear the phrase “artists are sensitive,” but what does that mean? Are they any more sensitive than the general population? And how do we measure this? Our study tries to unpack these questions.

We find that artists engage in more prosocial behavior than the average person, so this suggests that perhaps artists are in fact more sensitive. However, our results also show that you don’t need to necessarily be an artist for this link to exist; simply experiencing the arts through observation—whether this be through attendance at a museum exhibit or witnessing a fine arts performance—also leads to higher levels of prosocial behavior. Why this link exists between altruistic action and exposure to the arts, we cannot be sure.

There is no existing theory to guide us on this, but what our findings suggest is that there is something about the creative process, both directly engaging in it and witnessing it, that puts people more in touch with their emotions, which manifests in helping, nurturing, caring types of actions. So not only engaging in art directly, but also experiencing it as an audience member evokes some sort of passion or stirs up feelings that somehow translate into greater consideration of others’ feelings, and into helpful actions when the opportunity presents itself.

Kelly LeRoux is a professor in the department of public administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Category: Q&A

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