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A study of 50,000 people found that regardless of skill level, taking part in activities like painting, pottery or music helps people manage their emotions, build confidence and explore solutions to problems.

A close up photo of hands painting an Easter egg

Even a brief amount of time spent on a creative pastime has powerful benefits for personal wellbeing, according to new research commissioned by BBC Arts.

An online survey of almost 50,000 people across the UK found that taking part in creative activities helps people manage stress, face up to challenges and explore solutions to problems in their lives.

Embracing challenges

Participants in the Great British Creativity Test, produced in partnership with University College London (UCL), were asked about which creative activities they took part in, including options in performing arts and music, visual arts, literature, and digital arts such as photography.

The survey also asked whether taking part in these activities helped people manage their emotions.

Researchers identified three key ways that creativity is used:

  • as a ‘distraction tool’ to avoid stress
  • as a ‘contemplation tool’, creating the mental space to reassess problems and make plans
  • and for ‘self development’, building self-esteem and confidence.

Encountering new creative activities – regardless of the level of skill involved – was found to have a particularly positive impact on emotions and wellbeing.

And while the study concludes that live face-to-face activities such as singing in a choir or taking part in a group painting class were the most effective, even isolated online creative activity led to a positive impact.

The findings have been used to create an online ‘Feel Good Test’, that will provide respondents with a personalised ‘feel good formula’ using the three key coping mechanisms identified.


Dr Daisy Fancourt, the UCL Senior Research Fellow who led the research, commented: "This study is the first to show the cognitive strategies the brain uses to regulate our emotions when we’re taking part in creative activities.

“While previous studies have shown the strong link between creative activities and emotions, we've not been sure about how this has been happening.”

Describing the findings as “really exciting”, Fancourt added that the data would be shared with researchers across the UK.

BBC Arts editor Lamia Dabboussy said she was “thrilled that our research adds to the wealth of evidence about the benefits of getting creative.”

She added: “Lots of us lead increasingly busy lives and this research shows that even a small amount of time spent on creative pursuits can really make a difference.”