Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



Committee Chairperson

Eleanor D. Brown, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kristen R. Breit, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Steven Holochwost, Ph.D.


This study examined the impact of various visual arts activities on physiological stress response and observed emotion regulation. The first aim of the study was to confirm and expand on results from past investigations showing that visual arts classes relate to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and greater observed interest for young children facing economic hardship. This investigation expanded on these findings by examining the effects of individual visual arts activities on cortisol and observed interest in comparison to other preschool activities. Participants were 72 children, ages 3-5 years, who attended a Head Start preschool and were randomly assigned to participate in different schedules of arts and homeroom classes. Children were videorecorded in preschool classes and a well validated observational system was applied to measure observed emotion. Children provided salivary samples at multiple times of day and immunoassays tested levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Results of hierarchical linear modeling indicated that children showed greater interest and lower cortisol in visual arts classes compared to all other classes. Results also showed that child participation in painting and drawing tables was associated with greater interest, as was participation at the teacher art table, with no significant effect for the clay table. Of the four visual arts activities examined in this study, only the teacher art table was associated with lower levels of cortisol. Teacher involvement may be a key factor in the effects of visual art on both stress and interest.