Attachment markers in family drawings

Research on insecure child attachments has found significant correlation between early attachment history and family drawing indicators,  ruling out present day circumstances and IQ in children ages 8-9 years of low socio-economic status.

The research contrasts two measures of attachment taken at 12 and 18 months, with the following assessments: Child behavior checklist (teacher reports), Maternal Life Stress measures over 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades, Child IQ tests taken at 8.5 years.

For a description of child attachment categories click this link.

The study found the following drawing indicators to be significant in each of the following categories.

Anxious-Avoidant drawing signs

  • Child and mother positioned far apart on page
  • Omission of mother (or child)
  • +Arms downward, close to body
  • Exageration of heads
  • Lack of color

and two others which to me lack precision (not explained in paper)

  • Disguised family members
  • Lack of individuation

For Anxious-Resistant

  • Figures crowded or overlapping
  • + figures separated by barriers
  • Unusually small figures
  • unusually large figures
  • figures on corner of page
  • Exaggeration of soft body parts
  •  » of facial features
  •  » of hands/arms

Overall significant insecure signs:

  • lack of background detail
  • figures floating (not grounded)
  • Incomplete figures
  • +neutral or negative facial affect
  • Mother not feminized
  • males and females undifferentiated by gender

Items with + are most significant in all insecure categories. The disorganised/disoriented category was only briefly presented; there was insufficient data to make comparisons.

In table 2 FAMILY DRAWING GLOBAL RATING SCALES the following aspects were measured according to the following definitions:

Vitality /creativity :    emotional investment in drawing reflected in embellishment, detail and creativity

Family Pride/Happiness Child’s sense of belonging to and happy in the family group

Vulnerability :       Vulnerability and uncertainty reflected in size distortions, placement of figures on the page, and exaggeration of body parts.

Emotional Distance/Isolation:  Loneliness reflected in disguised expressions of anger, neutral or negative affect, distance between mother and child

Tension/Anger:      Tension or anger inferred from figures that appear constricted, closed, without color or detail, careless in appearance or scribbled/crossed out

Role Reversal:     Suggestions of role reversal inferred from relations of size or roles of drawing figures

Bizarreness/Dissociation:    Underlying disorganization expressed by unusual signs, symbols, fantasy themes

Global Pathology:     Overall degree of negativity reflected in global organization, completeness of figures, use of color, detail, affect, and background scene.

I would add encapsulation (drawing enclosures around figures) for Isolation and for Tension/Anger,  I would look at the projected trajectory of drawn objects to infer anger towards a specific person.

IMPORTANT: None of these indicators are significant if taken individually.  The more related items, the closer to an accurate assessment.

Critique: This research has taken significant steps in ruling out various other influences and validating findings across time. And the conclusions are eloquent. In contrast it is surprising to find that a SINGLE DRAWING was used to make inferences, instead of contrasting a number of family drawings across time (1st, 2nd and 3rd grade to accompany the Child Behavior Checklist filled out by teacher’s for example).

I continue to harp on this fact: no single drawing can give you a full and accurate reading of a child’s global development at any given time. It can only give you broad indicators that need to be validated by supporting information. This research can be more affirmative because it contrasts past attachment indicators at 12 and18 months with drawing characteristics at 8-9 years old.   I am however, not so sure that poverty of drawing details such as lack of background, gender details and ground-lines are not instead indicative of poverty of drawing stimulation that can often characterise low-socioeconomic families.  If there are no drawing implements and drawing is not promoted there may be a lack of practice, and interest as I have talked about in earlier postings.

Reference: Fury, G., Carlson, E.A., and Sroufe, L.A. (1997). Children’s Representations of Attachment Relationships in Family Drawings. Child Development, 68 (6), 1154-1164.

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Catégorisé dans Thérapie.

Publié le 20 oct 2009

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