Engaging pre-school children from the low-income families in intensive arts programmes such as music, dance
and visual arts may help lower their stress levels, a study has found.
Previous studies determined that poverty can harm children's educational, social-emotional and physical
health, in part by damaging the bodily systems that respond to the chronically high levels of stress that
children in poverty are more likely to experience.
"Our study demonstrates that the arts may help alleviate the impact of poverty on children's physiological functioning," said lead researcher Eleanor Brown, Professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, US. For the study, the team looked at 310 economically disadvantaged 3- to 5-year-olds in the US and measured their cortisol levels -- an indicator of stress -- by analysing samples of children's saliva. The findings showed that children who participated in the arts classes had lower cortisol levels, suggesting that taking part in arts programming helped reduce the stress levels of these children. Further, these positive effects were found at the middle and end of the year, but not at the start of the school year.
The physiological benefits of arts programming may not be seen when children are first exposed, the researchers explained, adding that the benefits may depend on children adjusting to the classes and accumulating skills from the programming. "Our study is notable in rigorously demonstrating that arts programmes of high intensity can reduce cortisol levels. This study sets the stage for further investigation regarding the arts as a vehicle for promoting well-being among children from disadvantaged families," Brown noted, in the paper appearing in the journal Child Development.
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