Early Exposure to the Arts Linked to Later Success in Science

A study published in Economic Development Quarterly found a strong correlation between early childhood exposure to the creative arts and success as a scientist later in life.  

The study was composed of 82 people who graduated from Michigan State University's Honors College from 1990 to 1995, about half of whom had majored in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM).  Data regarding their involvement with the arts and crafts were gathered via a web-based survey.

The researchers found that participation in various arts and crafts was positively associated with the production of creative capital (patents and founding new companies).  Some arts and crafts were associated with patents, while others correlated more strongly with companies founded, and the pattern of which arts correlate with which patents and companies varied across the different life stages (early childhood, young adult, mature adult): "people who were involved in pottery/ceramics, photography, woodwork, metal work, mechanics, electronics, and/or computer programming for pleasure as children were more likely to have a patent as an adult," for instance, while "involvement in metal work, mechanics, electronics, or architecture in childhood has a positive relationship with companies founded."  In comparison, "those involved in print making, composing music, magic, metal work, mechanics, electronics, or architecture as a mature adult tended to have more patents. Print making or composing music as a mature adult was positively related to all creative capital. Involvement in photography as a mature adult was related to companies founded."

The STEM professionals in the study also reported using "artistic" styles of thinking (exploratory play, imagination, analogies) when problem-solving just as often as they use stereotypical “scientific” modes of thinking (logic, for example).

Based on these findings the authors suggest that long-term  experience with the creative process in arts and crafts may enhance creative potential in science and technology, and ultimately lead to more job creation. They conclude that "providing arts and cultural experiences to children, young adults, and mature adults may be critical in securing a region’s creative capital."

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Frederique Laubepin

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