WWU Student Explores Psychological Benefits of Art Experiences

A William Woods University student set out to investigate the psychological benefits of art experiences. Now her research has won her second place for poster presentation at a meeting of the Missouri Academy of Science (MAS).

Allison Hedges, a senior from Kansas City majoring in studio art, has been working with Marilyn VanLeeuwen, WWU associate professor of psychology, to explore the connections between brief art activities, stress and sense of self.

“This student has done something I have never witnessed first hand,” Terry Martin, professor of studio art, said. “Allison brought together the disciplines of art and psychology and did it well enough to receive recognition from a jury in the scientific community. I am very proud of her and also recognize the role Dr. VanLeeuwen played in this.”

VanLeeuwen, too, praised her student’s initiative and dedication. She said she became aware that Hedges had some interest in studying art therapy in graduate school after collaborating with Martin on projects that combined art and psychology.

She suggested that they work together under the Mentor/Mentee Honors Program, which was established at William Woods several years ago to encourage faculty and students to engage in joint research or creative projects.

VanLeeuwen has worked with more than one “mentee” who has not been a psychology major. She said such interdisciplinary work with non-majors “highlights the essence of a small liberal arts university and underscores the value of a WWU education.”

Hedges submitted an abstract of their findings to the Missouri Academy of Science and it was accepted. She made the poster presentation at the MAS meeting April 15-16 at Lincoln University.

“The dip art (marbleized paper) experience was designed to specifically explore the connections between brief art activities, stress and sense of self,” Hedges said in her abstract. “Such art activities potentially foster creativity and artistic self-esteem in non-traditional artists.”

She explained that the art activity consists of a mixture of oil paint and mineral spirits, poured into water, lending to organic and ambiguous shapes that can be lifted from the water, by pulling paper across them.

“It is not the outcome, but the process of creating artwork that may lead to stress-reduction and self-empowerment, potentially boosting self-esteem. Recognizing beauty and potential in ambiguity of the dip art may reflect back on participant’s own self-analysis and self-identity.”

According to Hedges, statistical analysis revealed significant reduction in reported stress and improvement in sense of self.

“These results reveal a potential means of employing art to reduce stress and improve self-worth,” she concluded.