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CNA Knowledge Bank

Can the Arts Get Under the Skin?

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Arts and Cortisol for Economically Disadvantaged Children.

Poverty influences physiological systems that respond to stress, as indexed by the hormone cortisol.

The result is a host of negative emotional, cognitive, and physical health outcomes for economically disadvantaged children.

We now ask whether the arts can “get under the skin” and promote healthy cortisol functioning for young children facing poverty risks.

This within-subjects experimental study investigated the influence of the arts on cortisol for economically disadvantaged children.

Participants were 310 children, ages 3–5 years, who attended a Head Start preschool and were randomly assigned to participate in different schedules of arts and homeroom classes on different days of the week.

In the ideal world, no child would grow up in poverty.

Working toward this ideal requires attention to not only economic inequities but also the many correlated inequities that disadvantage children growing up poor and the opportunities for disrupting the strong predictive relationship between poverty and negative outcomes.

This investigation demonstrates that a noneconomic intervention can reduce cortisol levels and shows that the arts can influence cortisol for children facing poverty risks.

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