NEA Research Labs: The Arts, Creativity, Cognition, and Learning

Overview

Each of our Labs on the “Arts, Creativity, Cognition, and Learning” focus on at least two of the following research questions”:

  • What is the relationship between one or more forms of arts participation and other forms of creativity?
  • What are the cognitive and/or social processes of arts-based creativity, and how do they affect learning-related outcomes?
  • How do learning-related outcomes associated with arts participation vary by age, socioeconomic characteristics, other demographic and behavioral patterns, and/or by health or disability status?
  • How do these benefits and related outcomes compare with those achieved by non-arts approaches (e.g., non-arts extracurricular programs; non-arts integrated curricula)?
  • What are the most effective neurocognitive tests and technologies to measure those outcomes?
  • What are the benefits and related outcomes for specific approaches to arts learning in formal or informal settings?

Current NEA Research Labs

University of California, San Diego, CA
Principal Investigator: John Iversen, PhD

The University of California, San Diego will establish a group of Early Academic Readiness and Learning Intervention (EARLI) studies that will test the influence of various school-day musical interventions on early childhood development. Activities include a phased research plan beginning with an initial feasibility study of a vocal music intervention, with a focus on assessing language, brain, and social development outcomes. Children in Transitional Kindergarten (TK) classes who participate in a daily singing program will be assessed three times a year on cognitive, affective, social, academic, and music skills through standardized and experimental performance-based measures, observational measures, and teacher and parent questionnaires. The research agenda will progress toward a major, multidimensional study of the effects of several hypothesized enhancing and protective aspects of musical experiences during childhood. This Research Lab builds on an interdisciplinary team's deep experience in music and large-scale longitudinal child development studies, bridging fields such as cognitive science, developmental psychology, neuroscience, musicology, and education. The ultimate goal is to identify and characterize potential effects and to define their interactions with child's age, status of brain development, and genetic variation. Partners include nonprofit arts partner San Diego Children's Choir and education partner Vista Unified School District.

The research agenda aims to address the following research questions:

  1. Can improved outcomes in learning, emotional well-being, and/or school engagement be demonstrated for early childhood music interventions? If so, what is the strength of the relationship, and are these effects sustained through elementary school?;
  2. How do learning-related outcomes associated with arts participation vary by age, socioeconomic characteristics, and other demographic and behavioral patterns?; and
  3. What are the most sensitive neurocognitive tests and technologies to measure outcomes?

Other Key Personnel

  • Timothy Brown, PhD
  • Terry Jernigan, PhD
  • Matthew Doyle, EdD
  • Margie Orem, MA

For more information on this Lab, see their Research Lab webpage.


University of California, San Francisco, CA
Principal Investigator: Charles Limb, MD

The Sound and Music Perception Lab at the University of California, San Francisco will conduct studies to identify neural substrates for creativity across a range of art forms. This lab's principal activity will involve collecting and analyzing data from "genius improvisers" in music, the visual arts, and comedy. Participants in these three art forms will perform an improvisational task, compared with an appropriate control task, while their brains are scanned with a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) device. In addition, participants will complete a battery of assessments, including personality measures, tests of creativity, and tests of cognitive abilities. Researchers will work with SF Jazz, The San Francisco Art Institute, Second City Improvisation Troupe, and Speechless to design experimental tasks suitable for each artistic domain and will help recruit participants. The studies will serve as proof-of-concept for studying improvisation across artistic domains.

The research agenda aims to address the following research questions:

  1. What is the relationship between one or more forms of arts participation and other forms of creativity?; and
  2. What are the cognitive and/or social processes of arts-based creativity, and how do they affect learning-related outcomes?

Other Key Personnel

  • Karen Barrett, PhD

For more information on this Lab, see their Research Lab webpage.


University of Maryland, College Park, MD
Principal Investigator: Kenneth Elpus, PhD

Researchers will develop the Music and Arts Education Data Lab (MADLab), a national hub for the analysis of large-scale quantitative data on arts students, arts educators, and the ecosystem of arts education in the United States across multiple arts disciplines. The MADLab’s keystone study will involve creating and analyzing data from a national survey of arts educators, exploring the status and nature of arts education in public schools. The team also will analyze several large-cohort, longitudinal, and publicly available datasets such as those from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). One NCES survey, the Middle Grades Longitudinal Study, features arts survey items developed or refined by the National Endowment for the Arts. The team also will host a series of researcher/practitioner convenings, produce research reports, create applied tools with accompanying toolkits, and develop a pre-doctoral graduate research training program in music and arts education research. Partnering arts organizations include the National Association for Music Education, the National Art Education Association, the National Dance Education Organization, the Educational Theatre Association, and Young Audiences.

The research agenda will address the following research questions:

  1. Who studies the arts and who teaches the arts in U.S. elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools?;
  2. Which schools provide which students access to comprehensive arts education?; and
  3. How do arts students fare in and beyond school, compared with their non-arts peers?

Other Key Personnel

  • Yan Li, PhD

For more information on this Lab, see their Research Lab webpage.


University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
Principal Investigator: Kathryn Cullen, PD/PI

A team of scientists, clinicians, designers, and artists from the University of Minnesota and the university's Weisman Art Museum will collaborate on a research agenda measuring and fostering creativity development in adolescence through arts engagement. In the keystone study, researchers will conduct a community-based participatory study with diverse, underrepresented adolescents who will participate in a creative arts and science program during an academic year. To examine the program's impact on youth outcomes, the team will use qualitative research approaches (i.e., in-depth interviews, observations of participants, arts-based methods) and quantitative ones (i.e., pre- and post-program self-report measures), as well as brain scans, to assess cognitive and social processes in adolescent creativity and arts development. The team will co-develop a study task that can be completed while in an MRI scanner, and which will allow researchers to measure research participants' brain processes while engaging in the task. An additional product will include a Weisman Art Museum showcase of the adolescents' artwork.

The research agenda will address the following research questions:

  1. What are the cognitive and/or social processes of arts-based creativity, and how do they affect learning-related outcomes?; and
  2. What are the most effective neurocognitive tests and technologies to measure those outcomes?

Other Key Personnel

  • Yuko Taniguchi, MFA
  • Abimbola Asojo, PhD
  • Mark Fiecas, PhD

University of South Florida, Tampa, FL

Principal Investigator: Jennifer Bugos, PhD

Researchers at the University of South Florida will conduct a keystone study that will examine the effects of fine motor learning (piano instruction), gross motor learning (percussion instruction), and no motor learning (music appreciation) in a randomized sample of children, young adults, and older adults. The study will use standardized measures of music achievement, executive functioning, attention, and motor skills assessed prior to participation, as well as at follow-up intervals of one, two, and three months.

Products likely to result from this lab will include peer-reviewed journal publications, as well as a toolkit to be made publicly available on the lab's website. The toolkit will contain research articles, video lessons, student interviews, course materials/manuals, research slides, and developmental teaching strategies. Partners include Kuumba Dancers and Drummers and the Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.

The research agenda will address the following research questions:

  1. What are the effects of music training interventions on music achievement, bimanual coordination (activities are skills that use two hands to complete), executive functions (a set of mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control), and attention across the lifespan?;
  2. What are the most effective neurocognitive transfer and technologies to measure those outcomes?;
  3. How much training is necessary to generate sustainable benefits?;
  4. How do learning-related outcomes vary by age, socioeconomic characteristics, other demographic/behavioral patterns, and by health/disability status?; and
  5. What are the benefits and related outcomes for specific music approaches to arts learning in formal or informal settings?

Other Key Personnel

  • Darlene DeMarie, PhD
  • Kyaien Conner, MSW, MPH


Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
Principal Investigator: Jennifer Novak-Leonard, PhD

Supported by the Arts Endowment from 2017-2020

The Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, & Public Policy at Vanderbilt University will partner with Northwestern University, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and with the Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville to develop a NEA Research Lab on “The Arts, Creativity, Cognition, and Learning”. Through the lab, researchers will conduct a nationally representative survey to test the relationship between arts-based creativity and broader types of creativity such as problem-solving, entrepreneurship, and social networking. Furthermore, researchers will conduct a mixed-methods study of Nashville artists to understand how their activities and proclivities intersect with other domains of creativity.

The research agenda will address the following research questions:

  1. What is the relationship between one or more forms of arts participation and other forms of creativity?; and
  2. How do those learning-related outcomes vary by socioeconomic characteristics, by other demographic patterns, and/or by one's stage of life?

Other Key Personnel

  • Norman Bradburn, PhD

Working paper #1: Literature review in preparation for a nationally representative survey about creativity and the arts

Working paper #2: Investigating artists--domains of creativity and business practices

Working paper #3: Initial findings from a national survey of self-perceptions of creativity

For more information on this Lab, see their Research Lab webpage.