This article examines whether exposure to the arts has an effect on the ability of students to engage in critical thinking. We conduct a randomized controlled trial involving 3,811 students who were assigned by lottery to participate in a School Visit Program at the newly opened Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Students who participated in the School Visit Program demonstrated significantly stronger critical thinking skills when analyzing a new painting. These effects were larger for students from more disadvantaged backgrounds. In light of recent declines in the availability of the arts for disadvantaged populations, our results have important policy implications for efforts to restore and expand access to the arts.
This study was highlighted in the Sunday, November 24, 2013 of the New York Times, in an article titled, “Art Makes You Smart.”