Architects and painters really do see their environment differently – but how?

We all know that some people have completely unique mind-set. They are more artistic and sort of see the world in a different light. But we just know that – there was no real evidence of this phenomenon. But now scientists from UCL have determined that architects, painters and sculptors conceive of spaces in different ways from other people and from each other.

Sculptors and architects see shapes and boundaries, while painters see everything as 2D objects. Image credit: Coyau via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

This is rather interesting, because people are not born architects or painters – they learn to be them. So it is something people pick up along the way. When you ask a person do describe a place or an object, painter is obviously going to describe as it is a two-dimensional image – something we just see from our perspective. Meanwhile architects are completely different – they will speak about pathways around the object, its boundaries, surroundings and so on. There were 32 participants in this study – 16 were professionals (architects, painters or sculptors) and 16 were just a control group. They were shown a Google Street View image, a painting of St. Peter’s Basilica, and a computer-generated surreal scene and then they had to describe what they saw.

Scientists analysed their speech using a novel technique called Cognitive Discourse Analysis, which highlights aspects of thought that underlie linguistic choices. In other words, it allows analysing thought process expressed in language. And so painters described what they saw as a 2D image and architects focused on boundaries and space. Interestingly, painters called the furthest objects the “back” and architects “end”. Meanwhile regular people did not put much efforts to describe what they’ve been shown at all.

So what comes first – the mind-set or the profession? Scientists say that it is not a one-way street. People who focus on a plain image from their perspective are more likely to become painters and other individuals who like exploring spaces and 3D shapes are more keen to study architecture. Claudia Cialone, first author of the study, said: “In their day-to-day work, artists and architects have a heightened awareness of their surroundings, which seems to have a deep influence on the way they conceive of space”. And now scientists are looking forward to continuing such studies.

It may seem like a merely interesting topic, but the way we conceive and communicate spaces is quite important. Ever been in a situation where you have to describe where you are, but lacked words to really paint an image in someone else’s head? Scientists hope to see how profession influences spatial cognition and see how this knowledge can be used in practical terms.


Source: UCL

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