Twins Early Development Study, King’s College London
Twins Early Development Study, King’s College London

Don’t throw away your kid’s stick figure drawings just yet.

Researchers found a “moderate correlation” between drawing and intelligence, a link that “seemed to be influenced by genes,” according to a study by the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London.

The test centered on identical and nonidentical twins, with 15,504 children participating. Each child was asked to draw a picture of a child and then given verbal and nonverbal intelligence tests. The children were first tested when they were 4 years old, and again 10 years later at age 14.

Several researchers evaluated the pictures by giving scores ranging from 0 to 12 , based on “the accuracy of features such as number of legs (1 point), and other bodily and facial features,” explained Rosalind Arden, lead author of the paper.

“The Draw-a-Child test was devised in the 1920s to assess children’s intelligence, so the fact that the test correlated with intelligence at age 4 was expected,”  Arden said in a statement.  “What surprised us was that it correlated with intelligence a decade later.”

The study, which was published in Psychological Science, found a moderate correlation between scores on the Draw-a-Child test and intelligence tests, which was stronger at age 4 (0.33) than at age 14 (0.20). The researchers did not find any correlation associated with gender.

“My guess is that at age 4 the drawing test and the cognitive ability tests are tapping into more similar problems,” Arden explained.  “At age 14 the verbal test and the nonverbal tests really were quite dissimilar from each other.  Having said that, the correlations between drawing and intelligence at two time points were not hugely different from each other.”

The researchers found a strong genetic link, as the drawings from the identical twins, who share all their genes, were more similar to one another than the drawings from nonidentical twins, who share about 50 percent of their genes.

In her statement, Arden is quick to point out that, “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. We are a long way off understanding how genes influence all these different types of behavior.”

The correlation is, as Arden points out, moderate. And she emphasized, “Drawing ability does not determine intelligence; there are countless factors, both genetic and environmental, which affect intelligence in later life.”

Several examples of drawings from the study can be found below.