Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care


Social Biobehavioural Research Group

The Social Biobehavioural Research Group focuses on the role of social factors on health. This includes social deficits (e.g. loneliness, isolation and social restrictions) and social assets (e.g. social connections, cultural and community engagement, nature engagement, and social prescribing). The team explores:

1.    The effects of social factors on health outcomes
2.    The psychological, biological, social & behavioural mechanisms underlying these effects
3.    The modifying role of micro-, meso- and macro-level factors on effects
4.    Differential patterns, barriers and enablers of social behaviours amongst different groups

Work within the team is led across four programmes:

Behavioural science

We are working to understand how social behaviours are patterned based on individual characteristics and the contexts in which we live and grow. We are exploring how loneliness, social isolation and engagement with social assets such as the arts, volunteering and nature changes across the life-course and how these behaviours are associated with other social and leisure behaviours. We are identifying barriers and enablers to engagement with social assets amongst different populations using behaviour change frameworks and working with government, Arts Councils and third sector organisations on the development of strategy to increase equity of engagement.  

Clinical trials and implementation science

We are designing and testing new social and cultural interventions for specific clinical outcomes, running clinical trials to test their efficacy, and then working to implement them in a sustainable and scalable way and secure NHS commissioning. Our programmes to date include singing for postnatal depression, choirs for people affected by cancer, singing for lung health, dance for Parkinson’s, and magic for hemiplegia. We are also working on the roll-out of social prescribing in the UK, evaluating the impact on patient outcomes and health service utilisation and developing new social prescribing interventions. Through our clinical work, we specialise in exploring psychological and physiological outcomes including through testing of heart rate, blood pressure, saliva, and blood samples. Through our implementation science work, we are currently working on large-scale trials focused on the scaling of successful interventions across the UK and Europe. 


We are using advanced statistical analyses to explore associations between social factors and the prevention and management of mental and physical illness at a population level. We work with datasets including UK and US cohort studies and patient electronic medical records. Our work has explored associations between social factors including the arts, cultural engagement, volunteering and social networks and reduced incidence of depression, childhood behavioural problems, chronic pain, frailty, cognitive decline, age-related disability and premature mortality as well as higher wellbeing, self-esteem and healthy behaviours. Notably these findings are independent of factors that could explain these associations such as wealth, education, health behaviours and other leisure activities. We also specialise in looking at biological and clinical outcomes, showing the relationship between the arts and neuroendocrine and immune response, the relationship between different types of social deficits and hospital episode statistics for different clinical conditions, and how social engagement and connections moderate the relationship between genetic risk factors and health outcomes.

Complexity science

We are developing new theoretical models to understand how and why social and leisure activities affect us. We have completed projects mapping the ‘active ingredients’ or ‘components’ involved in arts and cultural participation to support the development and comparison of different activities. We have also identified over 600 ‘mechanisms of action’ by which leisure activities can affect health outcomes and dozens of ‘moderators’ that help determine which mechanisms are activated in different contexts. We are currently working to map the social-ecological determinants of arts and cultural engagement as a health behaviour. We use the lens of ‘complexity science’ in our work, which draws on programme theory, ecological theory and systems theory to conceptualise these relationships and we are developing new theoretical frameworks and models.

The team hosts the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre on Arts and Health, the UKRI  MARCH Mental Health Research Network on social, cultural and community engagement, the COVID-19 Social Study (the UK’s largest study on the psychological and social impact of the pandemic) and the COVID-Minds Network, amongst other projects.

Meet the Team

Head of Group: Dr Daisy Fancourt 
Senior Research Fellows: Dr Feifei Bu, Dr Alexandra Burton, Dr Daniel HayesDr Karen Mak
Research Fellows: Dr Jess Bone, Dr Qian Gao, Dr Katey WarranAlexandra Bradbury
Engagement and Strategy: Rosie Dow
PhD Students: Dr Chris Evans, Saoirse Finn, Thamara Tapia Munoz, Katie Taylor, Stella Tsoli, Emma Walker, Robyn Jones
Research Assistants: Joely WrightRichard Turner,  Lucy Nicholls


Ongoing Projects 

Current PhD Projects 

Past Projects 

Publications - Daisy Fancourt

RPS Widget Placeholderhttps://research-reports.ucl.ac.uk/RPSDATA.SVC/pubs/DFANC73