A Closer Look

At their first piano lesson, young children may think they are there to learn to play songs. Instead, they'll likely spend countless hours with their teachers' hands cupped over theirs, learning how to correctly strike the keys. It isn't until they're much older that they learn how the notes they endlessly repeat as chords and scales fit together to form a song. Then, if they can't master that new song right off the bat, frustration inevitably sets in, and the piano keys begin to gather dust.

For many former piano students, the mere thought of pecking out a few bars of "Ode to Joy" might kindle emotions ranging from fear of failure to regret about not becoming the next Beethoven. However, had their music teachers incorporated a few principles from psychologist Albert Bandura's social-cognitive theory, such as by having students play in front of other children to normalize their mistakes, they might have had a more positive experience.

Of course, not every music teacher has formal psychological training in their teaching tool kit. But for those interested in applying psychology in their teaching can now more easily access such knowledge through membership in APA's Div. 10 (Society for the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts). Because psychology has many applications in the arts-from music to visual and performing arts-as well as to the study of creativity, Div. 10 has created a new affiliate membership category to allow nonpsychologists interested in all aspects of the arts to join the division without being APA members.

"We are trying to get an interaction between psychologists who are doing research about creativity and design and the artists and designers who are actually doing these things," says Div. 10 Past-president Paul Locher, PhD, a Montclair State University psychology professor who studies perception and the visual arts. Not only can practicing artists benefit from division participation, so can psychologist members, who stand to gain a broader, more inclusive understanding of creativity, he says.

Combining art and psychology

Locher led the creation of the new membership category to bring together the empirical, theoretical and practical aspects of the arts. He knew many people involved in artistic fields who were interested in the science behind what psychologists do, but who couldn't become APA members. With the new Div. 10 member-at-large category, and its low joining fee of $27, artists can easily take advantage of the group's offerings. Art teachers and therapists, musicians, writers, museologists and scholars who study creativity can also benefit, he notes.

Locher cites as an example two of the division's members, Jeffery K. Smith, PhD, and his wife, Lisa Smith, PhD, who are psychologists who consult for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum and Whitney Museum. In their role as museologists, they study people's behavior in museums, constantly using their training in psychology to understand a visitor's experience. The Smiths seek to answer questions such as: How do people move through exhibits? How does that impact their experience of the museum? Thus, the Smiths apply psychology on a very practical level to what is essentially an artistic experience, says Locher.

Scott Kaufman, Div. 10's student liaison, also joined the division under the new category. He is a third-year graduate student at Yale specializing in the nature of creativity and intelligence, and he's also a singer and cello player. Kaufman cites the division's listservs as a major reason to join Div. 10 under the new membership category.

The listservs provide a less formal forum than APA's Annual Convention, in which psychologists and artists can share their opinions, says Kaufman. In addition, they are also a clearinghouse for students looking to learn more, find mentors or grow their network of professional contacts, he says.

"Creativity is something that touches every part of an individual's life, regardless of what you do," he says. "A deeper understanding of how to attain creative practices and communicate with people coming from a whole bunch of different experiences can help you gain an understanding of yourself."

Another benefit of joining the division is its bulletin, says Greg Feist, PhD, Div. 10's president. "The bulletin has art in it, so it's one of the few bulletins that is aesthetic as well as practical," he says.

Applying psychology to piano lessons

The division has more intangible benefits too, says Div. 10 member Marcie Zinn, PhD, who was a piano teacher before she became a psychologist. Through psychology and her division membership, Zinn says she finally understood why she'd seen so many children struggle to learn the piano through traditional lessons.

"The old teaching model is extremely poor because it presupposes that a child thinks and acts like an adult, but that's just not true," says Zinn. Children can't, for example, take a complex assignment home and carry it out, alone, over the week, she says. Now Zinn's husband, Mark, a fellow piano teacher, is also benefiting from such psychological insights through Div. 10 membership in the new artist category.

The Zinns have taught thousands of children to play the piano using a program they developed based on Albert Bandura's self-efficacy model, which centers on fostering a person's belief that he or she can organize and carry out the action required to succeed in a given situation. In the context of piano lessons, the Zinns say that means that if children believe they can master a new technique, not only will they be able to, but they will grasp the lesson more quickly and easily.

Accordingly, the Zinns focus on reducing the stress that can be associated with learning a musical instrument. For example, they use social learning theories: They have students practice pieces in front of one another to show them that everyone has difficulties with learning to play.

"This aids in normalizing what they do, both mistakes and achievements," says Marcie Zinn. The Zinns also use verbal persuasion interventions to raise self-efficacy, in which, for example, Marcie Zinn will walk into a studio where a child is playing and say, "Oh, Mark, I thought that was you playing!" Or, while a child's parent is listening to a lesson, Mark Zinn will turn to the parent and stage-whisper, "Wow, they really got that piece quick," with every intention of the child overhearing the praise.

The Zinns combat performance anxiety by giving their students what they call "low-threat" performance opportunities, in which they play in front of other children in a normal classroom setting. The students gradually progress to higher-threat opportunities so that by the time they get to "high-threat" recitals, in front of adults, their anxiety is gone.

Div. 10's leaders say they hope the new membership category will spread the word about such techniques to spur more public enjoyment of the arts.

Div. 10 at a glance

Div. 10 (Society for the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts) is committed to theoretical and empirical interdisciplinary scholarship about the visual, literary and performing arts. Members of the division study three interrelated topics: creativity, the arts and audience response to the arts. Div. 10 also focuses on the use of the arts as diagnostic and therapeutic tools, and creativity in the sciences.

Membership in Div. 10 provides a subscription to the division's biannual bulletin, Bulletin of Psychology and the Arts, access to the division's listserv and discounts on five specialized journals. Div. 10 members are also entitled to apply for the Berlyne Award, given to outstanding junior scholar researchers, and the Arnheim Scholar Award for outstanding achievement in the area of psychology and the arts. For more information on the journals or awards, or to join, visit Div. 10's Web site.