Is a Picture Worth A Thousand Words? The Clinical Use of Children's Drawings.
Macleod, Emily Crawford
Clinicians who work with children commonly use drawing in their assessment interviews. Drawing in clinical interviews is usually used in one of two ways; as a projective tool, where aspects of a child’s drawing are interpreted as an indication of the child’s psychological functioning, or as a communication tool, where drawing is used to increase the amount of verbal information that the child provides. Although there is a lack of empirical support for the use of drawing as a projective tool, there is growing evidence to support the use of drawing as a tool to facilitate communication. The overarching goal of this thesis was to further investigate the value of children’s drawings as projective and communication tools. First, I investigated the validity of a common, yet largely untested, projective assumption. Preliminary past research has suggested that, under highly restricted conditions, children may use colour to portray emotion in their drawings (Burkitt, Barrett, & Davis, 2003a; Burkitt, Barrett, & Davis, 2004; Burkitt, Tala, & Low, 2007). I aimed to investigate whether children use colour to portray emotion in more clinically-relevant drawing settings. In Experiment 1, 3- to 10-year-old children indicated their colour preferences and then coloured in outlines of figures characterized as nasty or nice. Children also drew complex pictures about their own happy or sad experiences. In Experiment 2, hospitalized children drew about being worried or scared in hospital, and about their positive experiences. In both experiments, the relation between children’s colour use and their colour preferences was examined. Children used more preferred colours to colour in the nice outline, but a mix of preferred and non-preferred colours to colour in the nasty outline. When hospitalised children and children without a history of hospitalisation produced drawings about emotional experiences, irrespective of emotional content, children primarily used preferred colours. Furthermore, children did not show any differences in the specific colours that they used to depict positive and negative emotions. I also investigated the use of drawing as a tool to aid communication. Past research has indicated that drawing aids communication with children about some of their emotions (Gross & Hayne 1998, Wesson & Salmon, 2001). I aimed to replicate the finding that drawing helps children to talk about their emotional experiences, and to further investigate the effect of drawing across a range of clinically-relevant emotional experiences, and across a wide age-range that included adolescents. In Experiments 3 and 4, 5- and 6-year-olds, 11- and 12-year-olds, and 15- and 16-year-olds drew-and-told, or simply told, about four personal, emotional experiences (two experiences from previous research: happy and angry; two new emotional experiences: proud/confident, worried/nervous). Compared to telling, the opportunity to draw helped the 5- to 12-year-olds to report more information about all four emotional experiences. Drawing also helped the 15- and 16-year-olds to report more information about their happy and worried/nervous experiences, but there was no difference in the amount of information that they reported when drawing and telling, or telling, about their proud and angry experiences. The findings of the present research have contributed to the wealth of research showing that adults can not, and should not, predict children’s psychological functioning from their drawings. In contrast, consistent with past research, the present research shows that drawings are likely to be useful to help children, and potentially adolescents, to communicate about a wide range of experiences.
Advisor: Hayne, Harlene
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Children; Drawing
Research Type: Thesis