Rooms Without Walls: Young Children Draw Objects But Not Layouts

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Drawing is the 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 2 different foundational spatial categories: layouts and objects. Across 2 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 for 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1071-1080
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2021


  • children’s drawings
  • navigation
  • objects
  • scenes
  • spatial cognitive development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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