Author: Edited by Carolyn Asbury, ScM.P.H., Ph.D., and Barbara Rich, Ed.D.
Institution: The Dana Consortium
Full reference: Asbury, C., & Rich, B., (eds.) 2008. Learning, Arts, and the Brain: The Dana Consortium Report on Arts and Cognition. New York/Washington, D.C: Dana Press.
The research includes new data about the effects of arts training that should stimulate future investigation. The preliminary conclusions that have been reached may soon lead to trustworthy assumptions about the impact of arts study on the brain; this should be helpful to parents, students, educators, neuroscientists, and policymakers in making personal, institutional, and policy decisions.
Key findings include:
Although scientists must constantly warn of the need to distinguish between correlation and causation, it is important to realize that neuroscience often begins with correlations – usually, the discovery that a certain kind of brain activity works in concert with a certain kind of behaviour.
But in deciding what research will be most productive, it matters whether these correlations are loose or tight. Many of the studies cited here tighten up correlations that have been noted before, thereby laying the groundwork for unearthing true causal explanations through understanding biological and brain mechanisms that may underlie those relationships.
In 2004, the Dana Arts and Cognition Consortium brought together cognitive neuroscientists from seven universities across the United States to grapple with the question of why arts training has been associated with higher academic performance. Is it simply that smart people are drawn to ‘do’ art – to study and perform music, dance, drama – or does early arts training cause changes in the brain that enhance other important aspects of cognition?
The consortium can now report findings that allow for a deeper understanding of how to define and evaluate the possible causal relationships between arts training and the ability of the brain to learn in other cognitive domains.