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Young Children and Drawing Complexity

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Young Children and Drawing Complexity: An Examination of the Effect of Age-related Cognition and Gender

Understanding the way children develop cognitively plays an important role in psychological research. Part of the ongoing research has been in the area of evaluating the drawings of young children (Cherney, Seiwert, & Dickey, & Flichtbail, 2006). It has been suggested that these drawings provide a valuable insight into the emotional and social development of children and are often used for assessing cognitive maturation ( Golomb, 2012). Lucquet (1913, 1927) as cited in Anning and Ring (2007), was an early observer of this approach and noted that drawing stages in a child’s development exist. Picard and Durand (2005) suggest children five to seven years old evolve fundamentally from a period where they draw “what they know” about life around them to a period in which their drawings are “what they see”.

The research conducted by Cox and Ralph (1996) involving children aged, five, seven and nine showed differences in abilities to children to adapt their drawings to cover different profiles of a modelled human figure. The five year old children were found to be less discrete and less successful . However, the older children were able to display a considerable amount of ability in adapting their models, in particular the nine year old children were able to include more facial details and draw the running model with “bent arms and legs”. Cox and Ralph concluded that some of the findings in this study supported that cognitive maturation had a bearing on drawing complexity. Cherney, Siewert, Dickey and Flichtbail (2006) undertook a similar study that assessed the relationship between age-related cognition, gender and drawing complexity of five to thirteen year old children. The participants were given drawing tasks that included drawing their family and school. This study supported in the main, that as a child increases in age, so does their drawing complexity. Additionally, the results found gender differences did occur in the drawings but only in relation to the drawings of family. Girls were more inclined to embellish their work with jewellery, clothing and fingernails but also include more proportionate human bodies with more detail. In contrast, Hanline, Milton and Phelps (2007) concluded in their study that there was no gender difference in drawing complexity and that it was the amount of time dedicated to drawing that had the most effect on complexity.

It has also been suggested that the maturation of cognitive formation is organised by the development of working memory (Besur, Eliot and Hedge et al., 1997). Case, 1987 as cited in Bensur et al., proposed that as memory develops in a child, they become more skilled at utilising learned procedures. Case also theorised that working memory can be a valuable tool in assessing the information processing capabilities in young children from four to ten years old (Bensur et al.). Case suggests that as children grow older, they acquire more working memory units that enable them to grasp the complexities and decision making involved in drawing (Bensur et al.). As a result of Case’s findings, Dennis (1987) developed a drawing complexity scale, known as the Five Drawing Tasks. This scale enables assessment of children’s drawing ability, the development of working memory and age-related cognition (Bensur et al.).

The aim of this study had two purposes. Firstly, the relationship between of age related cognitive development and drawing complexity was explored. Secondly, the effect of gender difference in level of drawing complexity was also examined. It was hypothesised that as children increase in age their drawing complexity ability will also increase. In addition it was hypothesised that females would have a higher level of drawing complexity skills than males.

The sample consisted of sixty three local school children as well as their younger siblings. Twenty one participants were excluded from the final sample. Of the remaining forty two there were 28 females and 14 males. The total mean age for the sample was 6.81 (SD = 2.31). Mean age for girls was 6.86 (SD=2.55) and the mean age for boys was 6.72 (SD=1.82).
The children were provided with paper and pencils and a maximum of one hour to complete a picture of a person or people known to them. The drawings were scored using a specifically tailored version of Dennis (1987) Five Drawing Tasks. This was a three level scale of complexity that consisted of Facial Features, Body Proportion and Picture Detail. The scores were calculated to give a total complexity score for drawing. Scores for each subcategory ranged from 0-4 with a total range from 0-12. Facial features was scored from 0 = ‘no features’ to 4 = ‘facial features with an expression and/ or finer detail’. Body proportion scoring ranged from 0 = rated ‘missing features such as legs, hands and feet’ to 4 = ‘clear indication of body proportion and finer details present’. Picture detail scoring ranged from 0 = ‘no environmental background to 4 = ‘clear detailed drawing’
To examine whether age-related cognition development and drawing complexity has a relationship, the forty two participants were divided into three age groups. These were coded as follows; age group 1 = three to five year olds (M = 5.43, SD = 1.54), age group 2 = six to eight year olds (M = 7.29, SD = 1.79 and age group 3 = 9 years old and over (M = 9.11, SD 2.26). The results show that in the study sample there was a positive, moderate strength linear relationship between age group and drawing complexity which was significant (n =42, r = .62, p <.001). As expected, as children get older, their drawing complexity increases. An Independent Samples Test was conducted to determine if gender had an effect on drawing complexity. The results show that the complexity drawing score was not significant, t(40) = 3.83, p = .704. Contrary to expectations, there is insufficient evidence to support that gender has relationship with drawing complexity.
The results substantiate the hypothesis that as children increase in age, so does their drawing complexity abilities, however, there was not sufficient evidence to support the hypothesis that females would have a higher level of drawing complexity than males.

The outcome of this current study supports the research of Cox and Ralph (1996) that drawing complexity increases with age-related cognition. This current study found that children aged between three and five years had a low score compared to that of the older children, particularly those aged nine and over. Cox and Ralph noted that while the some younger children do have the ability to separate their drawing models of a human figure; it was not until a child was at least seven years that this skill was more commonplace and this ability continued to increase as the child matured. The research carried out by Chenery, Seiwart, Dickey and Flitchbeil (2006) collaborated those of Cox and Ralph . Chenery et al. found that complexity increases exponentially about the ages of seven and nine where the ability to plan, itemise and depict depth in their drawings.
The results of this current research did not provide sufficient supportfor the prediction that females would have a higher level of drawing complexity than males. This is in line with the conclusion of Hanline, Milton and Phelps (2007) that gender does not influence complexity regardless of age group and that time spent drawing was a more influential factor. Chenery, Seiwart, Dickey and Flitchbeil (2006) suggest that it is more likely to be females who spend additional time drawing than males. Although Chenery et al. found differences in drawings between the genders; it was the details provided in the drawings that differed rather than the complexity. Chenery et al. suggest that this could be part of the gendering process in society.

This study was limited by the small sample size and not representative of the wider population. It is suggested that any future research canvass a larger population that allows for a more balance in the number of female and male participants. Additionally, further study may be enhanced by adding ‘time spent drawing” as a dependent variable to ascertain the role that time spent drawing plays in cognition and complexity.

In conclusion, the results of this study found that age-related cognitive ability is a defining feature of drawing complexity, however, there was little evidence that gender plays a role in levels of complexity. By gaining further insight into a child’s cognitive development that will provide psychologists, educators and their parents the opportunities to intervene and/or encourage young children towards reaching their fullest potential.

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