Rooms Without Walls: Young Children Draw Objects But Not Layouts


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Description: Drawing is an epitome of uniquely human expression, with few known limits beyond those of our perceptual and motor systems and the cultures in and for which we draw. The present study evaluates whether the drawings of young children nevertheless reveal an early emerging bias in the depiction of two different foundational spatial categories: layouts and objects. Across two experiments following preregistered designs and analysis plans, 4-year-old children either sat in a colorful “fort” or looked at a small “toy” version of the fort and were asked to draw exactly what they saw. Children’s drawings often omitted the walls composing the fort’s layout but included the corresponding object parts of the toy. Symbolic representations of space in young children’s drawings thus privilege small-scale objects over large and fixed layout geometry. A distinction between the intuitive geometries of layouts and objects leads to their differential treatment in both humans and other animals during everyday navigation. This distinction may also underlie the differential treatment of layouts and objects in children’s drawings.

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Different groups of children were asked to draw exactly what they saw in four configurations of a fort (Exp. 1, top) or toy (Exp. 2, bottom). Examples of children's drawings illustrate how children in the fort tended to leave out the walls.


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