Catterall, J., & Peppler, K. (2007). Learning in the visual arts and the worldviews of young children. Cambridge Journal of Education, 37(4), 543.


Researchers used a quasi-experimental research design with pre-and post-test measures and treatment and control groups to investigate the effects of rich and sustained arts instruction on participating inner-city children’s self-efficacy (their sense of control of their surroundings) and creative thinking. The research population consisted of in-tact classrooms in Los Angeles and St. Louis. In Los Angeles, students attended Inner City Arts, a community-based arts education organization in one of LA’s most struggling neighborhoods, for visual arts classes that included art production and peer critique. In St. Louis, the Center of Contemporary Arts provided an in-school residency program which introduced students to ceramic arts. Researchers developed a survey instrument and administered it to both the control and treatment groups before and after the program. The treatment group of students who received high-quality arts learning made significant gains in self-efficacy and in creativity, specifically on the originality subscale.

Key Findings:

The arts students showed significant growth in two areas: self efficacy and originality. More than half of the arts students in the experiment made significant gains in beliefs in their self-efficacy, a significant improvement as compared to non-arts students, where just over one third made such gains. Self-efficacy is measured based on students’ perceived control over one’s future and confidence about surmounting obstacles to achieving goals. Students in the arts treatment group also significantly out-gained the comparison students on the originality subscale of the creativity measures. Originality is measured here by children’s beliefs that they could generate novel ideas or originality in art and gain originality in broader thinking patterns. These developments align with one of the the study’s hypotheses that aspects of self-efficacy might be connected to creativity. Besides self efficacy and originality, significant differences were not found between the treatment and control groups on measures of general self-concept or internal attributions of success (defined as one’s perceived control or ability to cause success). .

Researchers also observed that students were more engaged and were able to sustain periods of high focus and high engagement for longer periods of time during arts activities than in their home classrooms. They were also able to maintain higher levels of focus in their regular school classrooms for longer periods of time as compared to their non-participating peers. Similarly, reluctant participants achieved greater participation in the arts classes and their regular classroom settings.

While engaged in arts classes, students consistently had more positive interactions with their peers and adults than were evidenced in their regular classrooms. This shift in positive adult interaction may be related to teachers reporting that they began viewing students differently after seeing them participate in the arts classes and seeing their artworks.

Significance of the Findings:

This work adds to existing studies examining cognitive or motivation-related effects of participation in the visual arts. The findings suggest that high quality visual arts education encourages sense of self-efficacy as well as creative, original thinking. These outcomes stand to benefit all children, but are particularly important when considering the lives of underprivileged children for whom educational and social advantages are scarce. For these students, opportunities to participate in high quality arts education may be important to their development of positive views of themselves and their future role in the world.


The researchers developed a quasi-experimental study design that utilized pre-and post-test measures and control and treatment groups to determine if participation in high quality visual arts education had a positive impact on students’ self-efficacy and creativity. The researchers focused on two programs, Inner-City Arts (ICA in Los Angeles and the Center for Contemporary Arts (COCA) in St. Louis. Both institutions serve children in public schools that are situated in areas impacted by poverty, crime, drug-traffic and economic hardship. Intact third grade classrooms made up the treatment group, with students either participating in the ICA program or the COCA program. The comparison group consisted of intact classrooms from both cities that did not participate in either program. Overall, 179 students participated in the study, with 103 students in the treatment group and 76 students in the control group.

The researchers developed a survey instrument to assess student creativity based on the Torrance Test of Creativity, and scales to assess students’ self-efficacy. Specifically, the survey instrument measured general self-concept, general self-efficacy beliefs, and internal vs. external attributions for success, and dimensions of creativity such as originality, fluency, flexibility, and elaboration. Bot treatment and control students completed the survey both before and after the programs. Researchers collected data from the pre-and post-test surveys and student observations in arts classes and regular classes, and analyzed the data to reveal gains made between pre-and post-tests and comparisons between treatment and control groups.

Limitations of the Research:

Program participants in St. Louis and Los Angeles were not chosen through randomized design. This limitation is mediated by the similar demographic profiles and similar results on survey-based pre-measures for both groups as well as the inclusion of whole classrooms instead of self-selected or nominated students for study participants.

Questions to Guide New Research:

To what extent are various elements of creativity developed through arts learning experiences and are some art forms better suited for certain elements of creativity than others? Further research on a long-term, longitudinal scale will reveal the benefits of sustained arts learning for low socio-economic students over time. Additionally, how does the degree to which students in the inner city environments achieve as a result of arts learning compare to the degree to which other types of students achieve? Are the effects more pronounced for at-risk youth, and to what extent?