Architects + artists conceive of the world differently than other people, study reveals
In a study conducted by UCL and Bangor University researchers in which people were shown a Google Street View, a painting of St. Peter's Basilica and a surreal computer generated image, architects, sculptors and painters consistently conceptualized of the space differently than those with no background in these professions.1
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.
"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 senior author Dr Hugo Spiers (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences).
For the study, published in Cognitive Science, 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.2
Sculptors, architects, and painters are three professional groups that require a comprehensive understanding of how to manipulate spatial structures. While it has been speculated that they may differ in the way they conceive of space due to the different professional demands, this has not been empirically tested. To achieve this, we asked architects, painters, sculptors, and a control group questions about spatially complex pictures. Verbalizations elicited were examined using cognitive discourse analysis. We found significant differences between each group. Only painters shifted consistently between 2D and 3D concepts, architects were concerned with paths and spatial physical boundedness, and sculptors produced responses that fell between architects and painters. All three differed from controls, whose verbalizations were generally less elaborate and detailed. Thus, for the case of sculptors, architects, and painters, profession appears to relate to a different spatial conceptualization manifested through a systematically contrasting way of talking about space.