Draw a Person Test (DAP) - a great way to tell a kid's intelligence

Recently I went to the doctor for my son's yearly check-up. Our doctor is fantastic, and I am so lucky that I was fortunate enough to get him. Everytime we go, I learn something very interesting, this time was no exception.

The Doctor started asking standard medical questions: Was Jakub seriously ill this past year? Any ear infections? etc. Then he turned to his mental, social and physical development. And he asked me:

"Does Jakub know how to draw a person?"

I answered that probably yes, because he draws dinosaurs all the time, but I can't remember any people he drew recently... So the doctor gives Jakub (my 4 year old son) a piece of paper and asks him: "Draw a person". After a bit of shock and shyness, Jakub complies and draws a person. He started with a head, then a body, arms, legs, some eyes and mouth on the head - in their proper positions, and then also some hair. Nothing artistically pleasing, but just a stick figure (unfortunately I couldn't take the picture with me, as the doctor wanted to keep it in his records - the picture above is also Jakub's picture, from February 2008 - he was 3 years and 10 months old). The doctor said that was interesting, and started explaining the theory behind the "draw a person" test to me.

He said that at the test is very universal. Many studies show that the results are similar in all the corners of the earth. The way the kids draw the person determines at what mental developmental stage they are at. You can pretty much test for intelligence with a simple drawing. At the age of 3 kids start to draw circles and lines, but usually can't really make a stick figure look like a person. At the age of 4, they are supposed to start drawing people more like we're used to: head, arms, legs. But at the age of 4 (mental age of 4) most kids draw the arms and legs coming out of their heads - no body. Jakub didn't do this. His picture had a body. Even in the picture above - drawn when he was 4 months shy of four, Jakub drew a body. The doctor said that this was an indication that his mental development stage is more like a 5 year old rather than a 4 year old (I always knew my son was smart :)). At the age of 5, children start drawing bodies, arms and legs coming from the bodies. Then, between 5 and 5.5, kids start to draw more detail, including 3 fingers (not 5), clothes, etc. The doctor didn't go into more than this - figuring I'm not interested past my son's age anyway.

But when I got home, I wanted to know more about this cool non-invasive test: the Draw a Person test. I actually didn't know it was called that until I researched it online. Supposedly this test has been around for a whole century, and it's been used everywhere in the world, for children of many ages (up to 13 as I've seen in the few studies I read through), and by psychologists to analyze not only intelligence but also emotional stability of kids. It is the perfect test, because it is very simple and non-invasive, yet so telling of the child.

As I understand it, the procedure to administer the test is to tell the child: "Draw a Person" with not much more explanation. After that, there is a series of points the psychologist can award, depending on the picture's details (is there a neck? clothing? proportions correct? size of picture? etc.). Then, based on the child's age and the points of the picture, a mental age equivalence can be given. Cool!

A few days after my appointement, after picking up Jakub from Pre-School, I found a picture of two stick figures in his school bag. The hands and legs were coming out of the head. I was shocked... Jakub drew this? Did he regress in just a few days? I asked him: "Did you draw this?" He said: "No, a Emily drew this picture for me." He was so proud that his friend drew a picture for him, and I was happy to see that the DAP test is for real.

If you want to see some real studies (not on my child but on a statistical level) on this DAP test, here are some good sites I found:

This one is based in Pakistan, but is in english and has many sample drawings of the children's drawings and the analysis of them. The author of this paper also links culture and mental stability into the DAP test. Very interesting: STANDARDIZATION OF DRAW-A-PERSON test

This one is an exerpt from a book. I think eventually I will purchase this book, because this stuff fascinates me, but for now, this will do: Using Drawings in Assessment and Therapy

If you're interested in this sort of thing, you might want to check out these great resources:

Interpreting Psychological Test Data

Using Drawings in Assessment and Therapy: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals

Measurement of Intelligence by Drawings (Classics in Child Development)

The Silver Drawing Test and Draw a Story: Assessing Depression, Aggression, and Cognitive Skills

Update (August, 2011): I just got a hold of a scoring guide for the DAP test. I used it to score the middle figure in the picture above from my son's 3 year 10 month drawing. It got a score of 8. This corresponded to a mental age of 5 years old, which can be divided by my son's chronological age of 3.83 to give him an IQ of 130. Cool!

intelligence tests, IQ, emotional intelligence
Submitted by bogusia on Fri, 11/07/2008 - 19:12

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That's interesting; it would also have the bonus of not disadvantaging children through language or cultural barriers too.

Unfortunately the child would still have to understand what was being asked of them or have good "receptive language" skills. Obviously the DAP is only a guide. A child whose parents/siblings have drawn figures for them is likely to do a better job than one who has never seen figures drawn before for e.g.

i dont get this little thing

What you are all describing is perceptual development in the pre-school child. If the child cannot draw these stick figures,- put in a strip of sky at the top and a strip of ground at the base of the picture and have a house with a door that is not half way up but at the base of the house then the child is ready for more formal education and will be able to cope. Pretty important information! eh? The problem is, it is 'perceptual' so parents are not told as they then try and 'teach' the child these things and so a false reading is given.

That's cool. So the perception of a child needs to develop as well. That makes sense. I'll have to read more about this. Thanks!

This is a topic that is near to my heart..
. Best wishes! Where are your contact details though?

If you would like to write me an email, there's a contact page: http://www.nucleuslearning.com/contact (You can find the link at the Top Right Hand corner of this page). Thanks for the comment.

I assess children looking for learning disabilities or other developmental delays. You are right. This is a very interesting look at young childrens' development. It is language free and can give a great deal of information.

This certainly does not take the place of an IQ test, but it does give useful information. A trained examiner can identify drawings that are atypical (for any age) or are "young" for the child's age group. It gives some information about visual perception, motor skills, and problem solving skills.

It is a good idea for parents to have their young ones do a drawing of a person every 6 months (with no help or verbal prompts). Parents should see steady growth over time.

What a fascinating test...I'm going to see what our 5yo does tomorrow with this! :)

My daughter was evaluated for a developmental preschool last October and they asked her to draw her mom. She had never drawn anything other than scribbles and letters/numbers at that point and she was 4 years 5 months. She wrote the word M O M on the piece of paper rather than drawing a person.
This week, five months later, she started drawing people and came to me with a picture of Maggie and the Ferocious Beast and their friend Hamilton! (cartoon on Noggin) All the parts were there except fingers and she had actually put the hat on Maggie and horns and polk a dots on the beast. She's even using the appropriate colors!
This is a huge step for her developmentally since she is thought to have Asperger Syndrome, but has not recieved a formal diagnosis as of yet. I found this Draw a person test to be very interesting and will watch her figures more closely for facial expressions etc when she draws now! I think it will also help me to teach her about TOM (Theory of Mind).

That's so cool. She could write letters and words before drawing... wow! Your daughter is exceptional.

My son now is very concious of colours now too. He is almost five and draws very well and in the appropriate colours. However, I don't know if colour is significant in development... probably though.

Good luck with your daughter and keep me updated.

This is very interesting! Our son is 2 1/2 years old and has been painting since he was a year old... in recent months his paintings and drawings now actually look like things... he draws trucks, robots, planes, spaceships, rockets, and animals... he also likes to draw pictures of mommy and daddy. His pictures of people involve a head, arms, hands, fingers, legs, feet, eyes, and mouths... so, from what your post says, he must be quite advanced for his age! But he's shown high intelligence in other ways as well, so that's really cool to see it evident also in his drawings/paintings. We're so proud of him :)

He must be very advance... there are kids that can actually learn to read at 3. I taught at a gifted school, and lots of them actually read story books at three. I think your son is a are a candidate for this.

In the post it says the child was 3 years 20 months, then you say when he was four months shy of 4yrs. but that would make him 4mos. shy of 5yrs?!?! Is this a HUGE type-o or what?

Sorry! He was born May 2004, therefore he was 3 years and 10 months. I can`t believe I didn`t notice berfore. Huge typo. But I fixed it now.... thanks.

If he's 3 years 10 months, he's only 2 months shy of four.

yup... I wanted an example of something when he drew when he was 4, so 3 years and 10 months is approximately 4 years old.

Thank you for your post!

I was searching the net for info about when the child starts drawing persons.

My daughter is 2 years & 10 months. she has been doing scribbles since learned how to hold a pen/crayon at 1 year old & 8 months. At age 2 she suddenly had this urge to follow lines on paper, she draw lines over words on paper and draw twirls and says some representation about it, like balloons, house etc. now, i have discovered she can draw representations for persons, circle for the head, eyes, nose & mouth on there places, 2 lines at both sides of the circle for ears, 2 lines sticking out on the sides for hands, sometimes it has fingers, 2 lines sticking out below the circle for legs with horizontal lines for each as feet. sometimes the figures have hair or hats according to her.

she just draw us a family portrait a few days ago.

Thank you for this post. I came searching online for some answers because my daughter, who just turned 2 years and 6 months (ie, 2 1/2 years) yesterday just drew a pony. I told her the instructions in her activity book said "draw a pony in the space below" and wasn't really expecting much. She's been drawing smiley faces (with nose, eyes, ears, etc) for about 4 months now and I was shocked when she held up her book and actually drew a pony. It was stick figure horse with a round happy face for a head and everything was included and in proportion. (legs did not come out from the head. They came from the horizontal torso line) She is my first child so I don't really know what's "normal" (i hate using that word) so I wanted to come online to read more about it. Thanks.

This is really interesting. My daughter is 3 yrs 4 months and has been drawing very detailed faces for a long time. She correctly positions eyes nose, mouth and features such as hair, glasses (eye patches for pirates), beards and interestingly always very elaborate eyelashes.
She doesn't often draw bodies at all - but maybe that's because we say draw a face (never really thought about it). Will definitely try this with her though and see what she comes up with.
She has always had an 'adult' pen grip and has recently become very accurate at colouring pictures, being very careful to stay within the lines. Would love to know what all this means!

I can't believe this is the second result on Google for DAP test.

The test is NOT a test for intelligence, and I'm sure that's not what your doctor told you. This test is shows the child's cognitive development levels, which is different from IQ.

You are right - not really the measure of intelligence, but the cognitive development level. For a lay person, this is very similar. I wrote this blog when I was a total lay person, so I apologize for the mistake.

However, even though IQ is called the "intelligence quotient", it also is disputed these days whether it measures intelligence. It was designed to measure how well children will perform in school / college, but is this really intelligence? It is a subject of many discussions these days, what is intelligence and how to measure it. Most researchers now say that intelligence is multidimensional (for instance Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences). But even other psychologists have their own separations, for instance: Acculturation knowledge, Fluid reasoning, Short term apprehension and retrieval, Fluency of retrieval from long-term storage, Visual processing, Auditory processing, Processing speed, Quantitative knowledge. (A Merging Theory of Expertise and Intelligence, by John Horn and Hiromi Masunaga in the Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, 2007).

I was also stunned that DAP is not a popular subject on the internet, this is why I had to search a lot and finally wrote this blog about it. But if you know more about this topic, please be my guest and write more on it here, or Wikipedia, or wherever.

Projective tests in general are pretty interesting tools! The main reason information about the DAP test is so hard to find, is because it measures a person's response to AMBIGUOUS factors. If you knew that drawing a hat on your figure symbolized anxiety, you probably wouldn't draw a hat! A lack of public knowledge is what keeps tests like these reliable :)

This is a great test considering that you won't even need to subject the child into some stress. It is great exam thanks for sharing. I'm so excited for my niece to turn three or two so that I can try this test.

thanks for this blog, i was just looking at some coloring pages that where sent home from my childs school and they all have scribbley circles all over them and i noticed that on prior drawings that came home from school. i was just curious if this was typical for his age, which is 3 yrs and 7 months..

I find this post somewhat irresponsible. THe DAP test, is at VERY best, an extremely rough estimate of cognitive ability. It is highly affected by training (i.e. Have you practiced drawing with your child? Do they practice at his/her preschool?) In general, this is a measure used for analysis of psychological/personality functioning rather than development, and even then, most psychologists rarely base any type of evaluation on this particular test. I am surprised to hear of pediatricians using it as a developmental measure.

Let me first say my user name is the name my grandson gave to a turtle he found. He has since put it back in to the pond where he found it.
I happened upon this site a while back.
I tried to post something I guess I didn't do it correctly.
My grandson went for his pre-kindergarten physical. The doctor asked him to draw a picture of his mom, dad or both. He looked at the doctor perplexed; and said “I can’t draw their picture it is too hard. The doctor asked him why his answer was,"i can't draw eyes, nose, lips, body, hair”, etc. He took the doctor literally. I think his reply was intelligent. It is a big expectation to ask a child to draw a person.
After it was explained to him, he is now able to draw a stick figure. But, he still thinks it is “weird”, his words.
So, my question is, since my 4 year and 9 months old grandson was unable to draw a stick figure he is somehow considered unintelligent?

hahaha... of course not! Your grandson seems more intelligent than most!

what r u talking about

The DAP has been around a long time, around the world, and used by many DIFFERENT professionals! The profession dictates how the DAP will be interpreted...so parents should start asking that question? Teachers will use this idea to help recognize cognitive levels, psychologists use it to make an assumption about thinking and social-emotional maturity, psychiatrists might use it to make [albeit] warped interpretations of psychosexual development. What many people aren't familiar with is that occupational therapists who practice sensory integration will use this to form an understanding of the child's body image. In other words....can the child feel and make sense of their body parts and does the sensory information make sense. One cannot draw what one does not understand or feel. We are currently doing research with this idea. We see that children's Draw a Person tests improves immediately following sensory integration input!! We hope to show that so we can influence teachers to make classrooms more sensory rich for brain development.

I have read about that also: that children will usually draw what they know about, what they understand. Thanks for the great comment. Please let us know more about your research!

i came upon this site bc i was wondering at what age does a child draw stick figures.......ok this is why...my daughter is 38 months and at her 3 yr old check up i had to answer questions on what my daughter could do until i came across something i said no to. well she maxed out at 4yrs 9 months...i was both surprised and not surprised bc some of what she learned was from her older by (10yrs) brother but some not. Then the night before last she decided to draw which is normal she loves to draw and color(not coloring books hates that) but just on paper. she showed me this picture and called it Mommy and me. ok well both figures had heads, hair, 2 dots for eyes and one for nose and a smile for mouth and then a line for neck and a rectangle for body with 2 stick legs out the bottom and 2 sticks on each side for arms and on the legs and arms they had wavy lines for fingers and toes( tons of them)and i will tell you i was shocked. we have never drawn together and she has always loved to draw. My son doesn't draw. At Mother's day out she goes 2 week they tell me she loves to paint, color draw and will sit there for ever if they don't disturb her. I can't explain it but i am still shocked at the picture. we hung it on the freezer. I will tell you she was 2 when she first picked up a pen and scribbled and is no doubt a lefty...made a complete circle at 2.5 but all this is drawing is shocking...but i have decided that the best thing is to just allow her to do her thing and not read to much into it. I guess God decided that i needed an artist in my family....my son is musically inclined since he was 4 and still going with our support.

Although she might be an artist, but I think more than anything, she is mentally at a higher level. She puts in details in her drawings, which is what psychologists look for when rating the DAP test (not really how pretty it is, but what kind of details are present). She sounds extremely gifted. Keep her learning (not just drawing, but everything), she will excel, I'm sure!

I think i will agree about the higher level after today. we were at lunch and she was coloring and she tells me look i wrote my name i looked and there was the letter "M" (somewhat wiggly lines)the first letter in her name, i told her yes good job, and just thought it was one of those things by accident from her scribbles ...she said look my name again...and on the back was "M" but this time it was straight perfect lines a perfect "M" i was shocked....she put the paper on the freezer when we got home. She can count to 30 in order, can name and point to all letters in order and out of order, over 20 colors and all shapes including octagon, the thing is we never taught her this info some she got from PBS kids she is a big PBS KIDS fan and the rest i have no clue her new thing is books she wants to read with you all the time and i noticed she is starting to notice certain words. we laugh because she does this but she still can't say the correct sound for "S" she uses "H" sound for it and i have been trying to get her to say "s" for over 7 months.....i guess she will get it when she gets it.

the thing i don't look forward to is finding a school in a few years we live in Louisiana and well not much around here. My son attends a Catholic school but i already know it won't be advanced enough to keep her interested.

Utter nonsense. A bag of burning drivel.

Please read Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology by Lilienfeld et al. This is an example of the latter.

The WAIS-IV and other validated assessments gauge intellectual functioning, not the DAP, which measures little more than early artistic ability.

Projective testing in general is quickly being relegated to the dustbins of witch-doctor psychology.

This is rubbish... As a teacher of primary education 4 to 12 year old we expect most kids to be able to draw stick figures with body parts on correct places on day 1 of schooling! So at 4 your child would simply be average ability in this area. We would expect kids aged 4.5 to be able to draw arms and legs coming out the body and not the head!

My grandson will be 3 next month. My daughter called today and said she thought the flu had made him smarter. (He was already smart.) She was showing him how drawing circles could be made into tomatoes, apples, suns, etc. He said, "OH". He then took the crayon and drew an arm on the right side of his circle with his right hand; then switched hands, and drew the left arm with his left hand. Same with legs. I'm a former sp ed teacher and that is a new one to me.

My daughter had to leave so I don't know how detailed it was, but for a first man it's pretty interesting. He can color in lines if he tries and makes fairly good triangles. These are advanced skills for 35 months. Maybe he is ambidexterous, too, or just fooling around in a creative way.

We have used DAP in sp ed for many of the reasons your correspondents have cited. You can only draw what you are aware of.

Enjoyed the topic.

I am a PT and the drawing pattern that you described with him switching hands to complete the different sides of the picture may suggest that he doesn't like crossing midline. Not a big deal, but you might try to encourage activities that have him cross midline such as completing a large circle with one hand or drawing a large X centered with his midline.


the health nurse recently asked my son to draw a face, a circle, a triangle and a cross + shape,he was fine with them all but the +, the - part was 2-3 cm above the top of the |, is this of any great concern?

Interesting. I'm not an expert, but if your son can do the rest, I wouldn't be too concerned. What did the nurse say?


I'm a pediatric OT and I work with a lot of 3 and 4 year olds currently. Poor bilateral UE integration and coordination and inability/avoidance of crossing midline is something I see in all of my kiddos, just about. Inability to cross midline is a vestibular dysfunction (coming from a sensory integration point of view), so an idea is to engage your grandson in a lot of movement prior to inviting him to color or draw. Examples of vestibular input are swinging, jumping, bicycling, merry go rounds, summer saults, log rolling, etc. Place crayons (or paints or water or whatever) on the opposite side of what you think is his dominant side to encourage crossing midline. The PT's suggestions are nice as well. I also have my kids trace along a figure 8 pattern.

This is interesting. I have been trying to find out more about this. My daughter will be 4 in a few weeks and seems advanced in her drawing. I have even recorded her drawing and posted them on youtube -- http://www.youtube.com/user/Jimmydlynn

I haven't really seen any other children's drawings so don't really have a benchmark to compare her to.

I went to see your videos. Very interesting! The relative sizes of the different people are supposed to mean something too... so it was interesting to see mommy and daddy drawn bigger and smaller. I wonder if that's consistent?

She puts in a lot of detail, which is what's supposed to be another indication of higher cognitive development. Very cool!

I also wonder about the huge heads? Interesting.

Thank you very much for looking at them. I also wonder about the big heads? I have said to her that maybe they are too big but she thinks they are just fine lol. She always draws people in perspective size and although i am usually the biggest, if mommy is closer she draws her bigger. The thing that is getting me at the moment is the intensity of time she is spending drawing. Literally every free moment she has she wants to draw, i like that she does but since Christmas she has drawn over 1000 of them and I am running out of space LOL

Ok I have a daughter who just turned 5 years old who draws at a normal 5 year old level, however in tests that have been given to her at her pre-school, she has scored extremely well (as high as an 8 & even 9 year old level in some areas of this test, that test in individual ares like mathematics and so on. I also have an 8 year old autistic brother who is at a learning level in some areas, and a maturity level of between my 5 year old's and 3 year old's levels, but, at the age of 2 was drawing detailed happy faces and basic people. Then there is a child in my daughter's preschool class who draws excellent for a 'just turned 5 year old', I mean amazing pictures & this child did not score close to as high as my daughter did in the tests the pre-school gave. In fact I was informed that my daughter had the highest scores of her class! And just as a personal note, as a child I was always told I drew advanced and extremely well however I do not feel I have an above average intelligence (most of the time LOL) So based on what I have witnessed personally, I do not believe this test would be very accurate. Every child is different and learns & matures at different paces and just because a child learns differently or at a different level or pace does not make that child any more or less intelligent.

I am a parent of a 5 year old 'Artist'! He's been drawing since the age of 2 and often we thought of documenting his creations. Both my husband and I, are also artists and designers.

It's been almost 2-3 years, that we were toying with the idea of creating an online studio for all children, where they can share their masterpieces. I created a group or two on Flickr, ning and even Facebook...eventually, came up with this concept that we call the little sketchers!

We have had a very good response, since our launch, and we are happy to see children getting excited about all this. Art, I believe is not only therapeutic but also a great way to help children retain more in terms of their education. Art reveals a lot about what is going on in that tiny mind!

Little Sketchers is our little effort to enable parents to cherish the creative endeavors of their children!


FB Page:

This test, on average, shows the same developmental process for all children, though not all children reach the same developmental steps at the same age. The differences come in when a child is ahead of the process or behind on the process of developing their artistic abilities. A child who is ahead in artistic process isn't necessarily ahead of other children in other areas, and can even be behind in other areas. The greatest worry, and the biggest reason for a family doctor to use the "test", is that many times if a child is far _behind_ in the developmental process that nearly all children follow, there are probably other developmental delays in other areas that should be watched for.

This is all very interesting to me (and a little worrisome).  At my son's recent 4-year-old check-up he was asked to draw a person and refused.  When the doctor asked me if he does at home, I started thinking and he has never drawn anything resembling something else, instead it is a lot of scribbling with a variety of colors.  So I started working with him and trying to encourage him to draw trees, houses, etc.  Even after a few weeks of working with him, he is still unable and unwilling to even broach the subject (I am not pushing, only encouraging in fun).  He has now just begun preschool and I see the art that the other kids send home compared to my son's... they are certainly on a whole different level!  I can't help but wonder if there is some sort of therapy needed, as a pediatric PT once told me that children who don't like to swing (he never has!) have a brain function that is not fully developed. 

Very interesting.  I never heard the "swining" thing before.  And now in terms of drawing, I don't know if you "trained" your son to draw a person would do anything for your son.  It's a test, to check if the kid can perceive, observe and remember.  It's not really about the drawing, or how pretty it is.  So teaching him how to draw a person is not really the point.  But maybe...  I know kids that hate to draw, and maybe your son is one of them.  Sometimes they just have terrible motor skills and they don't want to "fail".  But it might be worth it to check him our a bit more by a professional.  Keep us posted!