Detail from Rembrant's Let the Little Children Come to Me. Courtesy of Jan Six Fine Art

Is online cultural content good for mental health and wellbeing?

Rebecca Atkinson, 01.07.2020
New research project aims to understand the impact during lockdown
The University of Oxford has launched a project exploring whether online cultural content has been beneficial to mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus lockdown.

The project, which is being funded through the university’s Covid-19 Research Response Fund, is being run by an interdisciplinary team from its department of psychiatry and the Oxford Internet Institute, using the Ashmolean Museum’s digital collections and resources.

It has been launched in response to concerns about the impact lockdown and the Covid-19 pandemic are having on people’s wellbeing and mental health – as well as the increase in the amount of digital content being produced by museums and other cultural organisations.

The Ashmolean says that visits to its website in April increased by 101% compared to the previous year. More than 20,000 people have seen its Young Rembrandt exhibition online and 17,000 people have taken selfies using the museum's Instagram filters.

“Access to museums and culture online has been a real tonic for people during the Covid-19 lockdown,” says Susan McCormack, the director of public engagement at the Ashmolean Museum.

“The Ashmolean has seen a huge increase in digital engagement. Curiously, interacting with our visitors online, especially through social media, has felt quite personal, even intimate.

“Despite the clear appetite for online museum content we don’t fully understand the science behind the impact of digital engagement. This project will help us gather evidence, improve what we do in the future, and provide new resources for mental health.”

During the first phase, members of the public are invited to take part in an online survey. One of the aims of the project is to investigate how digital content produced by organisations such as museums could be improved.

Andy Przybylski, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute, says: “There are common perceptions that online technologies have a negative impact on both children and adults. While evidence abounds that disputes this, we lack data on how internet-enabled experiences can actually benefit mental health. 

“I’m excited to see where this project goes and whether Oxford’s cultural resources, the internet, and rigorous scientific practices can be leveraged to shift the conversation and make a concrete difference in people’s lives worldwide.”


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02.07.2020, 14:04
I can’t tell you how useful culture online was to me when living through the Covid-19 crisis at work. Working in a Clinical Trials Research department in a hospital, my job is to record data on patients with Covid-19. It was a very stressful time for us as we knew this data was vital to us in order to understand this dreadful virus. Culture online helped me get through these difficult times. It certainly gave me some respite from the day job, and I was able to relax better when at home. I watched the ‘Culture in Quarantine’ series on the BBC iPlayer, the excellent programme on one of my favourite artists, Rembrandt, from the Ashmolean, and also the wonderful offering of terrific operas from the Metropolitain Opera, New York. Culture online has helped me cope better with life and my mental health while I was not allowed to go outside in the first few months of the crisis, except for going to work and for food shopping. I also learnt a lot more about opera and art, which is always a great bonus! So thank you!