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Sören Holmberg

Does culture make you healthy? This has been one of the issues in the research of Sören Holmberg, professor emeritus in political science, carried out within the confines of the SOM project "Culture, Health and Personality".
Having processed an extensive national statistical material from the years 2009-2011, Holmberg has found a connection that is exciting, but not altogether simple.
– In our statistical investigation, which in this case pertains to the entire Swedish population in 2011, we have looked at whether there is any connection between health and the performance of or exposure to culture. We are working with two concepts of health taken from health research: one is traditional and only pertains to concrete physical and mental states of health, while the other concerns people's experience of their health condition – so we have, so to speak, used the vantage points of both an objective and a subjective concept of health. As concerns the statement of there being a direct connection between culture and objective health, our studies show no such connection.

But the statistics do indicate a connection between culture and health?
– Yes, there seems to be a slight, significant statistical connection between culture and health in the sense of subjective experience of well-being. To put it bluntly one might say that the old minister of culture, Bengt Göransson, was both right and wrong when holding a lecture with the slightly provocative title "Culture sure as heck does not make you healthy". While it may be true that culture doesn't make you healthy, you may perceieve this to be the case. The connection we have found is assuredly weak, but it is very interesting and should be further investigated.

Give your thoughts on the SOM project "Culture, Health and Personality"?
– It is lead by me and Lennart Weibull who is professor emeritus of mass media research at the University of Gothenburg. We are studying the interaction between health and well-being on the one hand and on the other hand cultural habits and life styles in relation to e.g. various personality factors. Our work is part of the yearly SOM investigation, which is the richest statistical survey carried out in this country with hundreds of variables – and this is one of our strengths since conventional health research operates with many fewer variables.

What is the SOM investigations?
– SOM stands for "Samhälle Opinion och Medier" (Society, Public Opinion and the Media) and is a set of comprehensive statistical surveys of the public's attitudes and behaviour carried out by the University of Gothenburg. The sample is large and for 2012 it pertains to around 20,000 Swedes with various focus groups, both national, regional and municipal. It is probably the largest and broadest survey in Europe. And since the SOM investigations have been going on for several decades, we have accumulated extensive in-depth material which facilitates high-quality comparisons of long-term changes.

Should the study be followed up with in-depth investigations?
– We have received funds for collection of data for 2012 as well, and we hope to be able to continue delving into this problem area for a few more years and maybe engaging younger researchers who can take over. Culture and health is an important research area and I am working in parallel with adjacent studies, e.g. studies about alcohol habits and national correlations between corruption and health. Moreover, the SOM Institute, as I mentioned, has a rich historical material that should be used for support and comparison. Also, one further thought is to work with a wider concept of culture in future investigations in order to include additional aspects – what we have dealt with so far is rather controversial and comprises e.g. reading books and attending concerts, but does not include sports activities.

Personal facts

Employment: professor emeritus of political science
Age: 68 years
Family: wife and two children
Research interests: voter behaviour, representative democracy, societal steering systems
Driving force: producing tables about contemporary society for posterity
Leisure interests: producing even more tables and listening to Rachmaninov

[Interview by Daniel Brodén and published 2012-09-12]

Contact Information

Centre for Culture and Health

Box 200, 405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden

Page Manager: Lovisa Aijmer|Last update: 10/15/2012
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