Family life

Study: Preschool doodles linked to intelligence in teen years

A recent study discovers a link between preschool drawings and intelligence in teen years. But should parents worry if their kids can't draw?

Gillian’s drawing of a pregnant unicorn. Photo: iStockphoto

This is going to sound wildly gender biased: My daughter draws better than my son.

At four, Gillian’s hand-drawn pictures are far more detailed than Isaac’s were when he was that age. There are even a couple of drawings that my daughter’s recently made that rival what his look like right now. Their interests aside (Gillian is more likely to draw people or, in the above picture, a pregnant unicorn, while Isaac is more likely to draw a car or robot), Gillian’s illustrations come from things she’s imagined. Isaac, on the other hand, loves taking non-fiction reference guidelines to re-draw the wildlife we have around our house.

While I’d never suggest that Gillian is smarter than Isaac based on their doodles, a recent study has drawn a link between the two.

According to research by the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, how well a child draws when they are four years old is an indicator of their intelligence at 14.

Four-year-old study participants were asked by their parents draw a picture of a child—the picture was then ranked out of 12 on whether or not it contained the correct quantity of features, such as head, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, hair, body and arms. For example, a drawing that lacked facial features could rank as low as four. The children were also given verbal and non-verbal intelligence tests when they were four and 14. Researchers found that higher scores on the “Draw-a-Child” illustration test were moderately associated with higher overall scores of intelligence at ages four and 14. The “Draw-a-Child” test has been around since the 1920’s to assess a child’s intelligence.

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

Another fascinating part of the study was the comparison of the intelligence results involving identical twins. At age four, drawings from identical twins were more similar to one another than drawings from non-identical twins.

“This does not mean that there is a drawing gene—a child’s ability to draw stems from many other abilities, such as observing, holding a pencil, etc.,” Dr. Arden says. “We are a long way off understanding how genes influence all these different types of behaviour.”

So, if your pint-sized Picasso’s is wowing you with masterpieces, by all means, keep your craft closet well-stocked. But rest assured, if your preschoolers doodles are missing arms and eyes, I am confident that they will grow up to be just fine.

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.