Research Topic

A Critical Appraisal of Research in Arts, Health and Wellbeing

About this Research Topic

The field of ‘Arts, Health and Wellbeing,’ has witnessed a remarkable growth of interest over the last 20 years. Seminal work has been produced from the beginning of the millennium, which has led to the emergence of the arts and music as topics in health science beyond therapy. Arts and musical activities for health have been explored in contexts including treatment of acute and long-term conditions, health prevention, health literacy, and health promotion. Researchers, health professionals, and arts and music practitioners in the UK, Australia, the United States, Europe, and the Nordic countries have been at the forefront of this growing movement, but interest now extends more widely internationally, emerging literature from China, India, Singapore and a number of African states.

An important stimulus for this Special Collection is the recent WHO report on the contribution that the arts can make to health and wellbeing. (Fancourt and Finn, 2019). This report presents a wide-ranging review of research on arts and health from across the globe. The authors are clear, however, on the limitations of their review, as ‘detailed discussion of the strengths and limitations of different methodological approaches or individual studies’ was not possible due to the requirements of WHO Health Evidence Network reports. They advise readers to consult ‘discussions within specific studies’ and the systematic reviews they consider to be clear about potential flaws and limitations. They also note the ‘inherent publication bias’ in academic research journals towards ‘positive findings’ and argue that ‘a balanced appraisal’ is needed of ‘where the arts can and where they cannot provide support to health.’ They highlight too, the need to focus on ‘the size of an effect’ in addition to statistical significance, and whether the arts have ‘a clinically meaningful impact.’

The main aim of this Special Topic is to profile and celebrate the real achievements that have been made through research, and the tangible progress made in the promotion and implementation of arts for health practice. Contributions to this Research Topic will ask and answer such questions as:

• What tangible, robust progress has been made to-date in showing that the arts and music really can impact on health and wellbeing in a substantial and enduring way when compared with evidence from other domains such as physiotherapy or forms of psychotherapy?

• To what extent have key findings in the field of arts and health been successfully replicated with new populations and in different cultural settings?

• How do the arts and music work to achieve health and wellbeing outcomes? What theoretical perspectives are available to provide explanations of the mechanisms involved?

• What needs to be in place to ensure that opportunities are available for equitable, wide-spread engagement in creative activities shown to have benefits for health and wellbeing? How can arts and music activities help to address existing health inequalities?

• Have the arts been instrumentalized as part of global social capital agendas and, if so, how has this impacted on both the evidence produced and/or the aesthetic and professional autonomy of artists?

• What impacts has COVID-19 had on the field, practically and in terms of research, considering the challenges of social distancing and the enhanced risk of viral transmission associated with activities such as singing and playing instruments?

In addition, a second Research Topic aim is to provide a space for critical dialogue on the quality and relevance of research, reviews, and position papers published in the field, and the real challenges facing partnership working at the boundary between the arts and health:

• What is the evidence that artistic-creative activities provide distinctive benefits that other kinds of activities do not provide? Or do arts and musical activities contribute similar benefits as do other activities, but have the advantage of improved adherence, great cost-effectiveness, and fewer side effects?

• What have been the contributions of creative artists and people with lived experience of health conditions been in co-creating arts for health programs and evaluating them?

• Can the effects demonstrated through controlled scientific studies be translated into practice and scaled up in such a way that is effective and cost-effective?

• How generalizable are the findings from one national setting to other cultural and social contexts?

• Can the arts really serve to challenge and address powerful underlying social determinants of health, which generate large-scale and ensuring inequalities in health?

• To what extent is psychological research in arts and health subject to the ‘7 Deadly Sins’ affecting the research in the discipline of Psychology identified by Chambers (2019)?

This editorial team for this special collection is happy to accept the full range of article types Frontiers offer. In addition to original research reports and systematic reviews, we are especially interested in generating constructive, critical debate on what has been achieved in the field and current challenges and would welcome discursive reviews, discussions of methods, new developments in theoretical and conceptual analysis, opinion pieces and book and article reviews. We are keen to receive accounts of creative partnership working between artists, people with lived experience, and researchers that can be presented through case studies, including accounts of community projects.


Keywords: health, wellbeing, arts, validity, robust


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

The field of ‘Arts, Health and Wellbeing,’ has witnessed a remarkable growth of interest over the last 20 years. Seminal work has been produced from the beginning of the millennium, which has led to the emergence of the arts and music as topics in health science beyond therapy. Arts and musical activities for health have been explored in contexts including treatment of acute and long-term conditions, health prevention, health literacy, and health promotion. Researchers, health professionals, and arts and music practitioners in the UK, Australia, the United States, Europe, and the Nordic countries have been at the forefront of this growing movement, but interest now extends more widely internationally, emerging literature from China, India, Singapore and a number of African states.

An important stimulus for this Special Collection is the recent WHO report on the contribution that the arts can make to health and wellbeing. (Fancourt and Finn, 2019). This report presents a wide-ranging review of research on arts and health from across the globe. The authors are clear, however, on the limitations of their review, as ‘detailed discussion of the strengths and limitations of different methodological approaches or individual studies’ was not possible due to the requirements of WHO Health Evidence Network reports. They advise readers to consult ‘discussions within specific studies’ and the systematic reviews they consider to be clear about potential flaws and limitations. They also note the ‘inherent publication bias’ in academic research journals towards ‘positive findings’ and argue that ‘a balanced appraisal’ is needed of ‘where the arts can and where they cannot provide support to health.’ They highlight too, the need to focus on ‘the size of an effect’ in addition to statistical significance, and whether the arts have ‘a clinically meaningful impact.’

The main aim of this Special Topic is to profile and celebrate the real achievements that have been made through research, and the tangible progress made in the promotion and implementation of arts for health practice. Contributions to this Research Topic will ask and answer such questions as:

• What tangible, robust progress has been made to-date in showing that the arts and music really can impact on health and wellbeing in a substantial and enduring way when compared with evidence from other domains such as physiotherapy or forms of psychotherapy?

• To what extent have key findings in the field of arts and health been successfully replicated with new populations and in different cultural settings?

• How do the arts and music work to achieve health and wellbeing outcomes? What theoretical perspectives are available to provide explanations of the mechanisms involved?

• What needs to be in place to ensure that opportunities are available for equitable, wide-spread engagement in creative activities shown to have benefits for health and wellbeing? How can arts and music activities help to address existing health inequalities?

• Have the arts been instrumentalized as part of global social capital agendas and, if so, how has this impacted on both the evidence produced and/or the aesthetic and professional autonomy of artists?

• What impacts has COVID-19 had on the field, practically and in terms of research, considering the challenges of social distancing and the enhanced risk of viral transmission associated with activities such as singing and playing instruments?

In addition, a second Research Topic aim is to provide a space for critical dialogue on the quality and relevance of research, reviews, and position papers published in the field, and the real challenges facing partnership working at the boundary between the arts and health:

• What is the evidence that artistic-creative activities provide distinctive benefits that other kinds of activities do not provide? Or do arts and musical activities contribute similar benefits as do other activities, but have the advantage of improved adherence, great cost-effectiveness, and fewer side effects?

• What have been the contributions of creative artists and people with lived experience of health conditions been in co-creating arts for health programs and evaluating them?

• Can the effects demonstrated through controlled scientific studies be translated into practice and scaled up in such a way that is effective and cost-effective?

• How generalizable are the findings from one national setting to other cultural and social contexts?

• Can the arts really serve to challenge and address powerful underlying social determinants of health, which generate large-scale and ensuring inequalities in health?

• To what extent is psychological research in arts and health subject to the ‘7 Deadly Sins’ affecting the research in the discipline of Psychology identified by Chambers (2019)?

This editorial team for this special collection is happy to accept the full range of article types Frontiers offer. In addition to original research reports and systematic reviews, we are especially interested in generating constructive, critical debate on what has been achieved in the field and current challenges and would welcome discursive reviews, discussions of methods, new developments in theoretical and conceptual analysis, opinion pieces and book and article reviews. We are keen to receive accounts of creative partnership working between artists, people with lived experience, and researchers that can be presented through case studies, including accounts of community projects.


Keywords: health, wellbeing, arts, validity, robust


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

30 June 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

30 June 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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