Are Smart Kids Better at Drawing?

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The messy, free-form way that preschool kids draw is adorable. (Sure, kid, people totally have arms and legs growing out of their heads. Looks great.) But can these anatomically questionable pictures tell us anything else about the children who drew them? One team of U.K. psychologists sought to answer that, and in a new paper, they argue that the way a child draws at age 4 can predict intelligence at age 14.

The research will appear in an upcoming paper in Psychological Science, and the press release summarizes the findings like so:

At the age of 4, children were asked by their parents to complete a ‘Draw-a-Child’ test, i.e. draw a picture of a child. Each figure was scored between 0 and 12 depending on the presence and correct quantity of features such as head, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, hair, body, arms etc. For example, a drawing with two legs, two arms, a body and head, but no facial features, would score 4. The children were also given verbal and non-verbal intelligence tests at ages 4 and 14.

 The researchers found that higher scores on the Draw-a-Child test were moderately associated with higher scores of intelligence at ages 4 and 14. The correlation between drawing and intelligence was moderate at ages 4 (0.33) and 14 (0.20).

A quick aside: the idea of an adult scoring a child’s drawing a “0” is so, so sad! But here are a few examples of pictures that scored zeroes, which the researchers sent Science of Us:

And here are a couple of drawings that scored 10:

Criticizing preschool art still feels ridiculous, but the second set is decidedly less scribbly than the first, so. Seems like a fair judging system, at least. But, again, it’s only a moderate correlation between drawing and intelligence, which is a crucial point, lead researcher and King’s College London psychiatrist Rosalind Arden reassures in the press release.

“The correlation is moderate, so our findings are interesting, but it does not mean that parents should worry if their child draws badly,” explains Arden. “Drawing ability does not determine intelligence, there are countless factors, both genetic and environmental, which affect intelligence in later life.”

In other words, don’t panic if your kid’s a terrible artist, or if you’re now remembering your own questionable attempts at drawing as a preschooler.