The decade-long survey plotted the development of 7,752 pairs of identical and non-identical twins (a total of 15,504 children) as part of the Twins Early Development Study funded by the United Kingdom's Medical Research Council. Included in the study was a drawing experiment. Four-year-old participants were asked to draw a picture of a child.
Researchers were able to show that more accurate and detailed drawings corresponded with intelligence levels measured when the participant turned 14 years old. The quality of the 4-year-olds' drawings was based on details, not aesthetics -- the presence of features like head, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, hair, body, arms and so on.
"The correlation is moderate, so our findings are interesting, but it does not mean that parents should worry if their child draws badly," explained Dr. Rosalind Arden, lead author of the new study. "Drawing ability does not determine intelligence, there are countless factors, both genetic and environmental, which affect intelligence in later life."
Arden and her colleagues also found the quality of drawings and intelligence were more closely linked among identical twins than non, suggesting a genetic component.
"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.," Arden qualified. "We are a long way off understanding how genes influence all these different types of behavior."
Still, researchers say it's logical that the ability to draw would indicate some deeper analytical capabilities -- the ability to translate thinking for the flat page.
"Through drawing, we are attempting to show someone else what's in our mind," Arden explained. "This capacity to reproduce figures is a uniquely human ability and a sign of cognitive ability, in a similar way to writing, which transformed the human species' ability to store information, and build a civilization."
The research of Arden and her colleagues is detailed in the latest edition of the journal Psychological Science.