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Artists and architects think differently compared to other people - UCL study

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Arts & Culture

Artists and architects think differently compared to other people - UCL study

Architects, painters and sculptors conceive of spaces in different ways from other people and from each other, finds a new study by UCL and Bangor University researchers. When asked to talk about images of places, painters are more likely to describe the depicted space as a two-dimensional image, while architects are more likely to focus on paths and the boundaries of the space.

For the study,  the researchers brought in 16 people from each of the three professions – they all had at least eight years of experience and included Sir Anthony Gormley – alongside 16 participants without any relevant background, who acted as controls. The participants were presented with a Google Street view image, a painting of St. Peter’s Basilica, and a computer-generated surreal scene. They had to describe the environment, explain how they would explore the space, and suggest changes to the environment in the image.

The researchers categorised elements of the responses for both qualitative and quantitative analyses using a novel technique called Cognitive Discourse Analysis, designed to highlight aspects of thought that underlie linguistic choices, beyond what speakers are consciously aware of.

The painters tended to shift between describing the scene as a 3D space or as a 2D image. Architects were more likely to describe barriers and boundaries of the space, and used more dynamic terms, while sculptors’ responses were between the two. Painters and architects also differed in how they described the furthest point of the space, as painters called it the ‘back’ and architects called it the ‘end.’ The control participants gave less elaborate responses, which the authors say went beyond just a lack of expert terminology.

UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


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