The Arts and Development Lab has four lines of research: art and emotion regulation, giftedness in drawing, visual thinking, and aesthetic judgment. Our research is supported with grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Imagination Institute of the John Templeton Foundation, and PSC-CUNY. Emotion Regulation Functions of Art-Making We have investigated whether the act of drawing improves negative mood, and if so whether the greatest benefits come from drawing to express (i.e. expressing negative emotion as a form of release) or drawing to distract (i.e. shifting attention away from negative thoughts and feelings). We have shown that drawing improves mood in both children and adults when used to distract rather than express. We have also found that drawing is more effective than writing at improving mood in adults. And preference does not affect this finding: mood improved more after drawing than after writing, even when the preferred activity indicated was writing. Our current work goes deeper and more systematically into the question of how distraction elevates mood through drawing. With grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and PSC-CUNY, we are investigating whether the benefits of drawing persist over time.
Perceptual and Cognitive Underpinnings of Artistic Talent Our work focuses on prodigies and gifted children in the visual arts. We have found that the ability to detect figures embedded in a larger pattern (and hence to focus on the details independently of the context) is the perceptual skill that most clearly predicts the ability to draw realistically. We have also found that precocious realists (those who draw at above age level, but who were not selected as drawing prodigies) have superior local processing skills: they are able to focus on the parts of a complex image, rather than the image as a whole, and this skill allows them to segment images mentally into their parts. Our current work is examining the prevalence of drawing giftedness in children.
Visual Thinking Visual imagination involves the ability to generate, manipulate, and transform images mentally, and requires going beyond the information given to the senses. This kind of ability is prized in STEM fields (architecture, engineering, physics, surgery) as well as the arts (visual art, dance, theater). With a grant from the Imagination Institute of the John Templeton, we are developing a measure of visual imagination and testing the use of drawing as a way to foster visual imagination. In a related line of work, and in collaboration with Aaron Kozbelt, Rebecca Chamberlain, and faculty at the Pratt Institute, we are examining how drawing training can improve perceptual skills.
Aesthetic Judgments Many factors influence how we evaluate a work of art. We are examining whether information about how a work of art was made influences our preferences and judgments of that work.