August 28, 2018


The George Mason University Arts Research Center (“MasonARC”), is a multidisciplinary research center involving the expertise of three faculty members at George Mason University, with a research focus on arts engagement, child development, and education. The overarching goals of the Mason Arts Research Center are to investigate the role and effects of arts engagement, across art forms, on social and emotional development in educational, out of school, and other contexts. This center is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts as part of its Research Labs program. For more on the NEA Research Labs program, click here.

MasonARC is intentionally broad in its scope and goals and will involve more than just research. In addition to research, the center will work on dissemination of research for teachers, policy makers, researchers, artists, and the public. We will also hold a biennial conference to bring together local researchers, artists, and policy makers with an interest in the arts and child development. This will include not only arts researchers from GMU across colleges and units, but also other researchers in the arts, students, and local arts partners, museums, policy makers, funders, and collaborators within the Washington DC metro area. The meetings will consist of panels, short talks, open discussion, and agenda setting for future research questions and projects for collaboration and future funding related to the arts and human development.


About the Principal Investigators

Dr. Goldstein is Assistant Professor of Applied Developmental Psychology at George Mason University. Her work focuses on children’s developing social and emotional skills, particularly theory of mind, empathy, and emotional control and regulation, and how such skills intersect with children’s engagement in pretend play, theatre, drama, and other imaginative activities. She received a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology in 2010 from Boston College and completed post-doctoral training at Yale University from 2010-2012. Her work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, Arts Connection, The John Templeton Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the American Psychological Foundation and the Department of Homeland Security.

Dr. Winsler is a Professor of Applied Developmental Psychology and Associate Chair for graduate studies in the Psychology Department at George Mason University. He received his PhD from Stanford University in 1994. He is an applied developmental psychologist with interests in children’s private speech (self-talk), the development of self-regulation, music and dance, bilingual language development and English-Language Learners (ELLs), school readiness and early childhood education. Dr. Winsler is author of more than 100 journal articles and book chapters and has two books. He has also received over $2 million in research grants, including a recent grant from the NEA.

Dr. Sheridan is an associate professor with a joint appointment in Educational Psychology and Art Education at George Mason University, where she directs the Learning in the Making Lab and is a founding co-director of the Mason Arts Research Center (Mason ARC).  Dr. Sheridan’s research focuses on how people learn through creating. She takes a sociocultural perspective, studying how learning is situated in diverse and changing contexts with the advent of new technologies.  She focuses in particular on creative production with technology and how technology can create innovative contexts of possibility for youth from traditionally underserved groups.   She completed her doctorate in Human Development and Psychology at Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

Current Research

The research agenda will begin with three interrelated keystone studies, each stemming from the expertise of the central research team and in partnership with nonprofit arts partners.

Study 1 involves a large scale (N ≈ 40,000) analysis of data from the Miami School Readiness Project. The data set involves five cohorts of children who were assessed for school readiness in preschool between 2002-2006 and have been followed longitudinally as they progress through high school. This study will examine selection questions about which students take arts elective courses in high school, and whether taking arts courses (controlling, of course, for all selection effects observed) is linked to better academic performance.

Study 2 is a laboratory experimental study with 10-year-old children, focused on a possible mechanistic explanation for previous findings linking theatre experience with higher levels of social skills. We will test for emotional granularity (the ability to describe and name the variety and complexity in emotional experience) as a possible mediating skill gained through acting leading to higher social understanding. Participants will be randomly assigned to various theatrical techniques and then engage with a text, to test whether using such techniques leads to better social understanding, and whether previous theatre experience moderates this finding.

Study 3 examines the dynamic relationship between studio teaching, learning, and learners’ sense of agency in arts learning contexts. The study involves developing an observational tool to assess how, when, and to what degree arts education environments support learners’ autonomy. We will conduct a minimum of 20 hours of field observation and recoding and contextualize these observations with insights of the instructor. Analysis will involve coding on autonomy-supportive pedagogy and emergent categories identified by the researchers and arts educators. Together, these studies answer questions about the causal and mechanistic relationship between arts engagement and social-emotional development, as well as predictors and outcomes of engagement in the arts in school contexts.

MasonARC Events