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Cultural Engagement and Mechanisms of Actions

Cultural engagement benefits our health. Yet, it's complicated to make the values of culture in health flourish by establishing tangible solutions. How can we tap the untapped potential of using culture as a driver for prevention and treatment in public management of health and well-being?

By CultureForHealth

Cultural engagement benefits our health

Cultural engagement benefits our health. Similar statements are shared and communicated vastly and researchers worldwide are publishing papers drawing maps of the interlinks. Yet, it's a complicated process to make the values of culture in health flourish by establishing tangible solutions that use culture as a driver for prevention and treatment in public management of health and well-being.

CultureForHealth is one out of many projects with the purpose of grasping this hard nut to crack.

Mechanisms of Actions

A couple of years ago, the Social Biobehavioral Research Group at University College London (SBRG) published a list of mechanism actions in their new multi-layered framework helping us to understand underlying components being activated in people when engaging with leisure activities.

Multi-level leisure mechanisms framework

The impact of arts and cultural engagement

The SBRG continued to explore the underlying mechanisms of arts engagement, and now they are expanding their research using the same theoretical framework to track the links between culture and health in their new publication: The Impact of Arts and Cultural Engagement on Population Health. Findings from Major Cohort Studies in the UK and USA 2017 – 2022.

By grouping their findings into three groups, the SBRG describes how the evidence offers multiple avenues related to policy and practice for preventing, treating, and managing physical and mental health across society, in Childhood (associated with physical and mental health behaviors in early and late adolescence), for Adults (to support emotional regulation, enhance wellbeing and enhance mental health), and for Older adults (protective associations against cognitive decline, dementia incidence, and multiple aspects of physical health and functioning). (Page 5 in the report).

Even lifespan is associated with those who are culturally engaged having a lower mortality risk. (Page 49 in the report).

Complexity science

Complexity science

The arts are complex activities. In order to understand how and why the arts affect us and lead to positive health outcomes, the SBRG uses the principles of complexity science to conceptualize relationships between the components of art activities and the processes that these components activate – named the mechanisms of action.

When engaging with culture, the outcomes result from "non-linear, non-static, interacting parts and processes in which no single active component nor mechanism has a causal influence on health".  It is the combination of all the parts intertwined that will create an outcome. (Page 16 in the report).

Five areas of action

Similar to the eight challenges in the CultureForHealth-report, the SBRG offers their view on Five Areas of Action: 

1)    Arts engagement in schools

2)    Clinical and community care

3)    Preventative public health

4)    Using the arts to reduce population health disparities

5)    Enhanced longitudinal and complex research

(Page 49 in the report)


Unleashing the potential of health and well-being benefits in arts and culture engagement across the European Union requires concerted action related to both policy and practice. Please use the reports from the field to find new tangible ways of untapping this potential.