Getting a handle on children's drawings : a cognitive approach
Many researchers of children's drawings have concentrated on assessing how drawing develops through several stages. Around eight years of age the child progresses from producing drawings based on internal stereotypes of objects (intellectually realistic stage), to producing drawings which reflect an external view of these objects (visually realistic stage). This research has highlighted numerous variables which affect this developmental sequence and has shown that children as young as four can produce visually realistic drawings under certain circumstances. The present study firstly conducted a series of cross-sectional experiments to assess two of the variables highlighted by previous research, i.e. instructions and the order of presentation of tasks. Children between four and eight years of age were asked to draw various cup and ball models while these variables were manipulated. By employing the novel procedure of measuring the amount of attention that the children paid towards the drawing models, it was possible to gain insight into underlying cognitive mechanisms. The research showed that intellectual and visual realism can be artificially induced by procedural changes that affect the amount of strategic attention that the child employs in a drawing task. Increased attention is associated with visual realism while reduced attention is associated with intellectual realism. This thesis therefore concludes that there are no distinct stages of development, but instead these are a by-product of strategic attentional processes. In order to place drawing in a broader cognitive context, a longitudinal study was then conducted which assessed drawing in relation to memory and selective attention. The developmental patterns of performance, strategy use and metacognitive awareness in the drawing task, were similar to those in the memory and selective attention tasks. This suggested that children have underlying abilities common to these three different cognitive areas. It was concluded that there is a need to assess drawing within the context of general cognitive development.