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Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
While politicians and policy experts seem to be pushing for more students to embrace math and science at the expense of the arts, a new study from Michigan State University (MSU) supports the notion that an artistic education has so-called ‘real world’ value.
According to the study, which was published in the journal Economic Development Quarterly, people who participated in arts activities as a child were more likely to generate patents and launch businesses as adults.
The interdisciplinary team of study authors reached their findings by tracking MSU Honors College graduates from 1990 to 1995, who majored in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). The research team discovered that those who own businesses or patents in their study cohort received up to eight times more experience with the arts as children than the average person.
“The most interesting finding was the importance of sustained participation in those activities,” said Rex LaMore, director of MSU’s Center for Community and Economic Development. “If you started as a young child and continued in your adult years, you’re more likely to be an inventor as measured by the number of patents generated, businesses formed or articles published. And that was something we were surprised to discover.”
Music lessons seems to be particularly prevalent among the group, as the researchers found 93 percent of the STEM graduates had some kind of musical training at some point in their lives. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, only 34 percent of adults have ever received musical training.
The MSU cohort also reported higher-than-average participation in the visual arts, such as acting, dance and creative writing. Those who had experience with metal work and electronics during childhood had a 42 percent greater chance to own a patent than those without that type of experience. Those with architectural experience were nearly 88 percent more likely to form a company and children with exposure to photography were 30 percent more likely to have a patent filed.
According to study researchers, an artistic background sets the stage for non-conventional thinking. In fact, the study cohort said they had used ‘artistic’ skills – such as analogies and imagination – to solve problems in their chosen field.
“The skills you learn from taking things apart and putting them back together translate into how you look at a product and how it can be improved,” said Eileen Roraback, of MSU’s Center for Integrative Studies in the Arts and Humanities (CISAH). “And there’s creative writing. In our study, a biologist working in the cancer field, who created a business, said her writing skills helped her to write business plans and win competitions.”
The researchers went on to say that their findings could be useful in the context of future education policy as the worldwide economy undergoes an innovation-based revolution.
“Inventors are more likely to create high-growth, high-paying jobs in our state, and that’s the kind of target we think we should be looking for,” LaMore said. “So we better think about how we support artistic capacity, as well as science and math activity, so that we have these outcomes.”