International Journal of Art & Design Education

Drawings of Emotionally Characterised Figures by Children from Different Educational Backgrounds

Volume 24.1   2005

Burkitt, Esther; Barrett, Martyn & Davis, Alyson


Previous research has shown that children systematically alter the size and colour of their drawings in response to the emotional character of the figures which they draw. However, these findings have been demonstrated only with children receiving mainstream Western education. This experiment was designed to investigate whether children receiving a different kind of education also use scaling and colour differentially for depicting figures of contrasting emotional significance. 76 children, 44 children from mainstream schools (21 boys, 23 girls) and 32 children from Steiner schools (15 boys, 17 girls) were divided into two age groups, with 38 children in the younger age group (mean age 4 years 7 months) and 38 in the older age group (mean age 6 years 8 months). All children completed three drawings of differentially characterised human figures: a neutral, a happy, and a sad figure. Children from the mainstream schools drew larger figures overall, but educational background did not interact with the specific emotional character of the figures in producing these scaling changes. However, there were differences between the two educational groups in relation to the colours used for the negatively characterised figures. The findings are discussed in terms of the need to further understand the role of the educational system in mediating children’s depictions of emotional character in their drawings.