Study Suggests Children’s Drawings Reveal How Smart They Are

by Laura C. Mallonee on August 27, 2014

Twins Early Development Study, King’s College London

Children’s drawing from Twins Early Development Study, King’s College London (all images courtesy King’s College London)

Think your four-year-old might be an artistic prodigy? While early drawing ability doesn’t mean your child will be the next Picasso, a new study suggests it may indicate brightness. After conducting and scoring a children’s figure-drawing test, researchers found not only a significant correlation between accuracy and intelligence at age 4, but also that the scores may predict how smart a kid will be at age 14. 

Rosalind Arden, Maciej Trzaskowski, and Robert Plomin at King’s College London, along with Victoria Garfield at University College London, summarized their findings in a paper titled “Genes Influence Young Children’s Human Figure Drawings and Their Association With Intelligence a Decade Later,” published in Psychological Science last week. They write:

Our data show that the capacity to realize on paper the salient features of a person, in a schema, is an intelligent behavior at age 4. Performance of this drawing task relies on various cognitive, motoric, perceptual, attentional, and motivational capacities … [The finding] demonstrates that the study of art and the study of science have much to offer each other.

To reach this conclusion, the group studied 7,752 pairs of identical and fraternal twins. The children were born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1996 into families whose socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and parental occupation resembled that of the population at large. When the twins turned four, their parents received questionnaires and “Draw-a-Child” tests — a means of measuring intelligence in young children first developed in 1926. They were instructed to do the following: 

If your child is a girl, say: “Draw me a picture of a girl. Do the best that you can. Make sure that you draw all of her.” If your child is a boy, say: “Draw me a picture of a boy. Do the best that you can. Make sure that you draw all of him.” If your child hesitates, encourage him/her, saying things like “You draw it all on your own, and I’ll watch you. Draw the picture any way you like, just do the best picture you can.” Do not say which parts of the body to draw. It is very important that you do not mention any of the body parts that your child could include in the picture. If your child stops before the picture seems to be finished, say “Is s/he finished? Is that all of him/her?” When your child has finished the picture be sure to have a look at it, and admire it!

The drawings were then graded on a score from 0 to 12 based on how many parts of the body were included. One point was given for the presence each of the head, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, hair, body, arms, legs, hands, feet, and clothing items. 

While they did find a correlation between accuracy in drawing and intelligence, the researchers stressed that drawing ability does not determine, but rather results from, intelligence. A blank page and a box of crayons should remain a safe haven for imaginative play and experimentation — not another opportunity for adult evaluation.

(image courtesy of King's College London)

The researchers also wanted to learn “the extent to which (if any) genes influence individual differences in children’s drawings of human figures.” They discovered that drawings done by identical twins (who share 100% of their genes) were much more similar than those done by fraternal twins (who share 50%), which means that “genetic differences exert a greater influence on children’s figure drawing at age 4 than do between-family environmental differences.”

The study may also possess a wider scientific value. The researchers note that figurative art may be a more recent human development than “geometric patterning,” in which case:

… figurative art may track, to some extent, increasing cognitive ability in the human species …. Evolutionary selection on drawing ability may have been an important precursor to writing, which transformed humans’ capacity to store information externally, and promoted the capacity to build a civilization.

So not only might figurative art, viewed as an “intelligent behavior,” indicate from a young age where we’re headed; it may also offer clues about where we as a society have come from.

“Twins Early Development Study, King’s College London”

Children’s drawing from Twins Early Development Study, King’s College London

“Twins Early Development Study, King’s College London”

Children’s drawing from Twins Early Development Study, King’s College London

“Twins Early Development Study, King’s College London”

Children’s drawing from Twins Early Development Study, King’s College London

h/t The Telegraph

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  • “Draw a Man” intelligence tests for preschoolers have been around a long time.

  • Mary Bates

    The drawings appearing under the monozygotic twins heading show
    proportion, volume/mass, and a sense of gesture and movement–they are
    very perceptive.

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