Ashmolean Museum and Oxford team to research the mental health benefits of online cultural experiences

Rembrandt self-portrait wearing a soft cap

Rembrandt, Self-portrait wearing a soft cap, c. 1633

A team of Oxford researchers has won a grant from the University’s Covid-19 Research Response Fund to study the effects of online cultural experiences on mental health. Mental health and wellbeing are among the major public health concerns during the coronavirus pandemic.

The interdisciplinary research team is drawn from the University’s Department of Psychiatry and the Oxford Internet Institute who will pilot a study using the Ashmolean Museum’s digital collections and resources. This new study will use the unique opportunity of lockdown and social distancing to gather new evidence.

Faced with unmet demand for services, clinicians have increasingly looked for new means to augment mental health provision, for instance, the potential use of community assets like museums, galleries and gardens. As a result of the pandemic and lockdown, museums themselves have also seen rising numbers of people using digital resources for entertainment, reflection and escape.

Since lockdown began, more than 2000 people have looked at the famous Alfred Jewel on the Ashmolean website. In April 2020 visits to the Museum’s online collections increased by 101% on the previous year. More than 20,000 people have seen the Young Rembrandt exhibition online. 17,000 people have taken selfies using the Ashmolean’s Instagram filters – putting themselves in front of museum objects and animations.

‘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.’   Susan McCormack, Director of Public Engagement, Ashmolean Museum

The Online Active Community Engagement for Mental Health and Wellbeing (O-ACE) Study has been awarded £37,000 from the University’s Covid-19 Research Response Fund. The study is intended to last 16 weeks and will evaluate existing online resources at the Ashmolean; recruit study participants from existing networks with a particular focus on groups vulnerable to mental health problems during the pandemic; and it will develop and test content using experimental medicine methodologies to assess impacts on mental health and wellbeing.

The study aims to generate pilot data which the Oxford research team can use for longer-term enquiry and development.

Participate in the study online

View Ashmolean Museum online collections and resources