Research over the years has consistently shown that, for adults in health care settings, displaying art can improve mood and reduce stress. In addition, the majority of adults have also been found to consistently prefer representational nature art over abstract images. This phenomenon has been shown to be true of adults all over the world. Even in parts of the world where mountains and particular animals are not part of the everyday landscape, adults who are given a choice routine select this kind of nature art over other subject matter. However, as is typical to many areas of research, the same preferences and effects have not been studied in children.
In 2008, British researcher Sarajane Eisen and her colleagues set out to investigate this phenomenon in kids 5 to 17 years of age. They wanted to answer several questions.
The first question they sought to find an answer to was, do kids prefer nature images over other images? What they found is that kids of all ages preferred nature art over abstract art with other subject matter. The research supported the notion that there is something fundamental and perhaps even innate, in terms of our ability to respond and connect to the natural world in this way.
Their second question had to do with whether cognitive ability and developmental age had something to do with their preferences? The researchers speculated that as kids move from the early sensory stages of life into the more abstract, introspective teen years, that there would be a similar trend in their preferences for art. That is, they believed that as kids started to move into their teen years, the childhood preference for representational art would give way to an interest in abstract art. What they found was that this was not the case and that a preference for representational nature art remained most popular with teens.
The third question the researchers had was, does art reduce stress levels for hospitalized kids? Here again, their hypothesis was not confirmed. When physiological measures of stress such as blood pressure and respiratory rates were monitored, viewing art did not have a significant positive effect on stress.
To sum up, nature art, while preferred by a clear majority of children over other forms of abstract art, does not have the same type of therapeutic benefits seen in adults. The researchers noted that the results may be due to the fact that social support in childrens’ hospitals is generally stronger than the support received in adult hospitals and that this supersedes any benefits that might be accrued through art.
You can find the original study here.
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