Artists, Architects See the World Differently from the Rest of Us

First Posted: Jun 30, 2017 08:26 AM EDT

You may want to think twice about your career choice--a new study suggests that "people of different professions differ in how they appreciate the world," according to senior study author Dr. Hugo Spiers.

The study, published in Cognitive Science, focused on architects, painters and sculptors, and found that these artistic types conceive of spaces differently than other people and each other. Specifically, painters are more likely to describe a given space as a two-dimensional image, while architects are more likely to describe the paths and boundaries of the space, in a more three-dimensional perspective.

Sixteen people from each of the three professions were presented with a Google Street View image, a painting of St. Peter's Basilica, and a computer-generated surreal scene. They then had to describe the environment of each image, explaining how they would explore the space and their overall conception of the image.

"We found that painters, sculptors, and architects consistently showed signs of their profession when talking about the spaces we showed them, and all three groups had more elaborate, detailed descriptions than people in unrelated professions," said Dr. Spiers of UCL Psychology & Language Sciences. The researchers analyzed the participants' responses using both qualitative and quantitative analyses, using Cognitive Discourse Analysis, a technique which focuses on linguistic choices that may be subconscious.

For example, the painters tended to shift between describing a scene as a 3D space or a 2D image. Architects were more likely to describe barriers and boundaries in the space, and sculptors responses were somewhere in the middle. Painters also referred to the furthest point of the space as the "back" which architects referred to it as the "end".

The study indicates that your profession may have an impact on the way you think, experience and conceive of the world. "We've found here that even within the same culture, people of different professions differ in how they appreciate the world," Dr. Spiers said. It may also indicate that people who naturally see the world as a 2D image may be more inclined to pursue painting, for example.

Ultimately, artists, architects and sculptors have a "heightened awareness of their surroundings" and space, and the researchers' next step would be to further investigate spatial cognition of professionals to see how their brains work.

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