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The representation of time course events in visual arts and the development of the concept of time in children: a preliminary study

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For more content, see Multisensory Research and Seeing and Perceiving.

By means of a careful search we found several representations of dynamic contents of events that show how the depiction of the passage of time in the visual arts has evolved gradually through a series of modifications and adaptations. The general hypothesis we started to investigate is that the evolution of the representation of the time course in visual arts is mirrored in the evolution of the concept of time in children, who, according to Piaget (1946), undergo three stages in their ability to conceptualize time. Crucial for our hypothesis is Stage II, in which children become progressively able to link the different phases of an event, but vacillate between what Piaget termed 'intuitive regulations', not being able to understand all the different aspects of a given situation. We found several pictorial representations — mainly dated back to the 14th to 15th century — that seem to fit within a Stage II of children's comprehension of time. According to our hypothesis, this type of pictorial representations should be immediately understood only by those children who are at Piaget's Stage II of time conceptualization. This implies that children at Stages I and III should not be able to understand the representation of time courses in the aforementioned paintings. An experiment was run to verify the agreement between children's collocation within Piaget's three stages — as indicated by an adaptation of Piaget's original experiment — and their understanding of pictorial representations that should be considered as Stage II type of representations of time courses. Despite the small sample of children examined so far, results seem to support our hypothesis. A follow-up (Experiment 2) on the same children was also run one year later in order to verify other possible explanations. Results from the two experiments suggest that the study of the visual arts can aid our understanding of the development of the concept of time, and it can also help to distinguish between the perceptual and the cognitive constraints (i.e. representational or cultural) in the representation of the succession of events.

Affiliations: 1: Dipartimento di Psicologia, Università di Milano-Bicocca, Via dell'Innovazione, 10–20126 Milano, Italy


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