A LITERATURE REVIEW - National Endowment for the Arts
Several studies have shown positive associations between engagement in music-based activities and social skills for typically developing children.
○In a nationally representative study sample, parents who reported singingto their child at least three times per week had a higher likelihood of also reporting that their child had strong and sophisticated social skills, such as pro-social behaviors, compared with parents who reported singing to their child less than three times per week (Muniz et al., 2014).5
○Toddlers participating in a four-to-eight month, classroom-based music education programto promote school readiness were more likely to increase their level of teacher-reported social cooperation, interaction, and independenceover the school year, compared with a control group who did not receive a music education program (Ritblatt, Longstreth, Hokoda, Cannon, & Weston, 2013).
○Childrenassigned to a dance groupthat met twice a week at school for eight weeks had stronger improvements from pre- to post-assessment in parent- and teacher-reported social skills, such as pro-social behaviors and cooperation. These children also showed strong reductions in internalizing (shy, anxious behavior) and externalizing (aggressive behavior) problems. Such effects were significantly stronger when compared with those for a control group (Lobo & Winsler, 2006).
○Motherswho engaged with their infants in a five-week music and movement programwere more likely to increase their reported quality of attachment with their child over time, compared with mothers in control groups who either did not get an intervention or who participated in social play that did not include music (Vlismas, Malloch, & Burnham, 2013).
•Some studies have also shown that participation in a one-year formal drama-based education program is positively related to some social skills developmentin youth (Nicolopoulou et al., 2009; Schellenberg, 2004). However, little research in general has focused on formal drama-based programs.
•For studies involving visual arts, parents who reported using toys for building things, like blocks, with their child “a few times a week” or more had a higher likelihood of also reporting that their child had strong and sophisticated social skills, compared with parents who reported playing with blocks with their child less frequently (Muniz et al., 2014).
•In one case, children who played with their parents at least “a few times a week” in more than one family routine (such as singing andplaying with toys for building things) had more sophisticated social-emotional skills than childrenwho did those activities less frequently (Muniz et al., 2014).
•Many of the arts-based studies that focused on the outcome of social skills also included a social component to the arts activity (e.g., children doing arts-based activities with their parents, with other children, and/or with teachers or experimenters).
•In somecases there were null relationsbetween arts participation and social skills.
○For example, six-year-old children who took music lessons in voice or keyboard saw little to no improvements in social skills over one year (Schellenberg, 2004).
○Children who participated in a drama-based education program saw decreases particularly in disruptive behavior and they experienced improvements in self-regulatory behaviors, compared with children who did not participate in the drama-based education program. However, there were no significant changes in pro-social behavior over the school year (Nicolopoulou et al., 2009).
○As previously mentioned, children who participated in a music-based education program were reported by teachers to improve in their social skills over the school year; however, parents did not report similar improvements (Ritblatt et al., 2013).Despite some gaps in the research, and a few non-significant findings, there is a general trend in the literature that engagement in the arts during early childhood has benefits for children’s social development.
Emotion Regulation and the Arts
Emotion regulation, or the ability to control emotional affect and expression, is another aspect of social-emotional competence. As children age, they become better able to regulate and control their own emotions (Elias & Berk, 2002). This ability is in turn associated with improved functioning as well as adjustment over time (Brown & Sax, 2013). As with the research on social skills development, several studies have emerged that focus on the relationship between arts participation and emotion regulation. In general, the research has yielded positive findings.
•Compared with a matched-control group, toddlersin an arts integration program comprised of daily music, creative movement (dance), and visual artsdisplayed improvements in teacher-rated positive and negative emotion regulationover the course of the school year (Brown & Sax, 2013).
•Engagement in music and dance was positively associated with emotion regulation:
○Infants who participated in a six-month active music grouphad better outcomes for emotion regulation behaviorsthan did infants in a six-month passive music group. “Active” referred to focused attention and participation in singing and dancing and “passive” referred to music playing in the background while infants engaged in doing something else entirely (Gerry et al., 2012). Notably, within this entire literature review, it was the only study that focused on active versus passive participation in the arts.
○Music-based activities were associated with greater use of expressive emotionsby children—regardless of the tone of the music—than was free play (Mualem & Klein, 2013). This effect was similar for the mothers’ use of expressive emotions. (In the study, mothers and children were observed engaging in ten minutes of a music activity followed by ten minutes of a free-play activity.)
•Participation in visual arts activities was also associated with positive emotional development.
○When children aged six-to-eight and ten-to-12 who were included in the same study were instructed to engage in drawing a house to distract them after being asked to think of a past event that made them feel upset or disappointed, they were better able to improve their mood—compared with other children who were instructed to draw the negative event, or children who were instructed to copy another drawing (Drake & Winner, 2013).
•Many of the arts-based studies that assessed for emotion regulation also included a social component to the arts activity.
•In a single case, arts participation was found to be unrelated to emotion expression. While toddlers in an arts program expressed more positive emotion in their arts classes than their regular non-arts classes, they also expressed similar levels of negative emotions across all classes; furthermore, this rate of negative emotion expression did not differ when comparing toddlers from the arts program with those who did not participate in the arts program at all (Brown & Sax, 2013).