Kisida, B., Bowen, D. H., & Greene, J. P. (2017). Cultivating Interest in Art: Causal Effects of Arts Exposure During Early Childhood. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. (Online publication, December 2017).


Despite a growing body of literature examining the effects of arts exposure and participation for youth, little is known about the development of attitudes toward art in early childhood. This study uses an experimental research design to investigate the effect of arts exposure on the development of children’s attitudes toward art. Applicant groups with students in kindergarten through second grade were randomly assigned to participate in an art museum’s educational program, which included pre-curricular materials, a visit to an art museum with a guided tour and arts-based activities, and post-curricular classroom materials. Researchers collected original data from students in classrooms that measured their attitudes toward art museums and art in general, as well as art knowledge. Researchers found that exposure to the arts at an early age produced significant positive effects on the development of students’ attitudes toward the arts. Findings demonstrate that arts-based exposure facilitated by schools can be an effective strategy for developing positive orientations toward art in young children.

Key Findings:

The study found that exposure to the arts at an early age produced positive effects on the development of students’ attitude towards the arts. The findings suggest that art-based exposure facilitated by schools can be an effective strategy for developing positive orientation toward art in young children.

Significance of the Findings:

The study indicates that the museum visits impacted students’ attitudes toward art museums and how they view art.  The findings may be of importance at least two constituent groups: museum educators and administrators, and school-based educators and administrators, in that the findings suggest the importance of art exposure to early childhood students. Museums and other stakeholders could use this research to inform policy as the study provides strong experimental evidence for providing high-quality, hands-on, museum learning experiences.


The authors invited schools to apply to participate in the experiment in conjunction with the museum’s school visit program. Participants included 525 applicants representing 38,000 students. Through a lottery selection process, the authors formed a control and treatment group. To ensure a representative sample, the authors conducted the assignment of the control group through a stratified randomization procedure.

The treatment group received materials and tutorials to guide their instruction and preparation prior to and during their visits to the museum. While at the museum, the treatment groups were divided into small groups (10 to 15 students) and focused on four to five paintings or sculptures. While observing the art, the students engaged in a facilitated, student-centered discussion about their thoughts and views related to the art they observed.

Members of the research team visited the students in their classroom throughout the experiment to conduct surveys to collect data. The researchers did not know what group they were surveying. The research team read the surveys out loud and the students responded to the questions on paper documents that included pictures. The student response options ranged from yes or no and thumbs up or down (images) to numerical responses on a Likert scale.

For yes or no responses, the research team coded the data using a smaller range. The researchers used a regression analysis to examine the control and experiment groups’ attitudes toward the arts.

Limitations of the Research:

The authors add several limitations to their discussion, which they clearly define. In addition, some limitations of this research include:

  • Even though the authors made efforts to pair schools in the control group so that they were similar in many observable characteristics, the control group consisted of more students on free and reduced lunch and of Hispanic descent. The authors indicated that they controlled for this in their analyses.
  • The authors admit that the baseline attitudes toward art among the control group were initially high, which makes the impact of the visits less statistically significant.
  • The authors indicated that they do not know “which aspects of the program caused the treatment group to have more favorable attitudes toward art museums and art.”  The study could have added measures and observations to identify why the treatment group may have had more positive attitudes. Focus groups or interviews with students in the various groups could have provided additional insight into the initial attitudes.
  • The authors do not know what actions the teachers in the control group might have taken in the classroom setting that could have contributed to more positive attitudes about art. Additional observations and survey measures would have benefited the study design.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Potential questions include:

  • What are the long-term implications of early exposure to art? As part of follow-up, what are students’ attitudes towards art in one, five and 10 years?
  • In addition to gender, is there a way to isolate socioeconomic status through the proxy of free and reduced lunch to determine potential differences in outcomes for students from different economic backgrounds?