Although arts engagement holds promise for reducing loneliness and enhancing social support, previous research has focussed on older adults. We investigated whether arts engagement was associated with loneliness and social support during adolescence.
We included 11,780 adolescents aged 11–21 years from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, a nationally representative cohort study. We measured whether adolescents engaged in school-based arts activities (band, book club, chorus, choir, cheerleading, dance, drama club, newspaper, orchestra) at wave one (1994–1995). Loneliness and perceived social support from peers were measured at waves one and two (1996). We used logistic regression to test whether arts engagement was associated with concurrent and subsequent loneliness and social support.
Arts engagement was not associated with concurrent or subsequent loneliness. Compared to not engaging, doing one or more school-based arts activities was associated with 59% higher odds of high social support concurrently (odds ratio [OR] = 1.59, 95% CI = 1.32–1.91). However, this cross-sectional association was attenuated after adjusting for demographic, socioeconomic, and health-related covariates (adjusted OR [AOR] = 1.16, 95% CI = 0.95–1.42). In contrast, doing arts activities was associated with 28% higher odds of reporting high social support one year later (AOR = 1.28, 95% CI = 1.03–1.59), independent of covariates and previous social support.
Extracurricular arts activities are associated with increased odds of reporting good subsequent social support from peers. This may be because they provide opportunities for social engagement, developing friendships, and building a sense of community. Exploring these associations in more detail should be a priority, enabling better understanding of this strategy for enhancing social ties during adolescence.