Drawing Ability, Genes, and Intelligence

Notes by Howard Gardner

A study by Rosalind Arden et al in Psychological Science measures whether drawing ability has a correlation with genes and overall intellectual capacity by testing over 7,000 pairs of twins. The study presents two findings:

1) how well students draw has a genetic component; and
2) drawing ability relates to general intelligence.

Actually, however, the report is quite misleading. The test is not a test of drawing in any artistic sense; indeed, the authors state that their "scoring system ignores features such as overall size, charm, proportion, expressed emotions… and other characteristics of children’s drawings.” Indeed, far from presenting a new measure of anything, the study is simply a repetition of work that is almost a century old, as described in Florence Goodenough’s book Measurement of Intelligence by Drawing (1926). The scorers only take into account how many features of the body are included, period.

As for drawing ability having a genetic component, it is worth noting but hardly surprising, as so does virtually every human behavior except for traits such as language. From the view of either classical intelligence theory or the theory of multiple intelligences, we have not learned anything new.


Arden, R., M. Trzaskowski, et al. "Genes Influence Young Children’s Human Figure Drawings and Their Association With Intelligence a Decade Later." (2014). Psychological Science 25(10), pp. 1843-1950.