Cognition and Culture in the Drawing Process: A Study of Children

Hart, Lynn Molyneux

     This dissertation addresses questions regarding children's representation of objects by studying the number of body parts produced in drawings and in verbal descriptions by children in the Kumaon region of northern India. Although it is a widely accepted fact that young children omit body parts from their drawings, there has been no consensus in identifying the points in drawing at which children encounter problems limiting their production. The present study uses an information processing model of drawing to define the steps in the drawing process at which some children encounter problems that cause them to omit body parts. The study tests three views which seek to explain why some children draw less than others: (1) that children's production in drawing increases with age, such that children produce the same amount at the same age level; (2) that attendance at school enhances overall cognitive competence; and (3) that ability to perform on cognitive tasks depends upon the particular skills which subjects have had the opportunity to acquire and practice in the cultural setting in which they grew up.
     5-, 7-, and 9-year-old children were selected from three settings, urban and rural with school and rural without school. Each setting provided different degrees of opportunity to acquire drawing skills. Children were observed performing a series of four tasks involving the production of human figure drawings and verbal descriptions of the body. The number of body parts produced at each age level by children in urban and rural settings was compared.
     The study showed that some children produced less in drawing because of problems encountered at several steps in the drawing process: in limitations in the internal representation, in using feedback to retrieve body parts and plan drawings, as well as in using graphic symbols in executing drawings. Production in drawing and in verbal tasks was shown to be related not only to age and schooling, but more specifically to the opportunities offered in the cultural setting to acquire and practice the skills required in the tasks.