Karen Collier

Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

William Pfohl, Doris Redfield, Robert Simpson

Degree Program

Department of Psychology

Degree Type

Master of Arts


Children’s human figure drawings (HFDs) have frequently been used as a projective technique to indicate emotional problems. Despite the popularity of this technique, research has shown contradictory findings on its validity as a measure of emotional adjustment. As a reason for the inconsistent findings, researchers have suggested that the artistic quality of HFDs may interfere with successful interpretation of adjustment from the drawings. However, the issue of the possible influence of artistic quality has not been adequately researched.

The major purpose of this study was to determine if a relationship existed between psychologists’ judgments of artistic quality and judgments of emotional adjustment from children’s HFDs. Children diagnosed as emotionally disturbed and normal children were randomly selected to produce HFDs. These children were matched according to age, sex and IQ. Twelve psychologists were randomly selected to rate the drawings for emotional judgment and artistic quality without knowledge of the children’s adjustment status. They psychologists were allowed to employ methods of interpretation they use in their practice. In addition, each psychologist was asked to list or describe the methods/criteria used in rating each drawing. Each psychologist was also asked to re-rate a random sample of the HFDs after one month in order to determine intrarater reliability.

Comparisons were made between (a) the artistic quality and emotional adjustment ratings, (b) the methods/criteria used in both ratings, and (c) the level of identification of actual adjustment from each set of ratings. The interrater agreement and intrarater stability of the ratings were also determined.

A positive, but nonsignificant, correlation was found between the artistic quality and emotional adjustment ratings, indicating that the two ratings may be measuring different dimensions of children’s HFDs. The psychologists’ perceptions of artistic quality of the HFDs evidently did not influence their ratings of emotional adjustment to a significant degree. An analysis of the criteria used in classifying drawings indicated that the same types of criteria were frequently cited for both types of ratings. Since the ratings were not highly correlated, the criteria were presumably interpreted differently in the two types of ratings.

A relatively high degree of interrater agreement was found for the artistic quality ratings and emotional adjustment ratings. The intrarater stability for both types of ratings was also relatively high. However, the emotional adjustment ratings were not significantly related to the actual emotional adjustment status of the children making the drawings. These findings indicated that the methods used by the psychologists in interpreting the HFDs for emotional adjustment were of questionable validity. The artistic quality ratings were also not significantly related to the children’s actual adjustment, indicating that emotionally disturbed children’s HFDs were not necessarily perceived as having low artistic quality.

The results did not support the contention that artistic quality of HFDs is a confounding influence on HFD interpretation for emotional adjustment. The findings from this study also contribute to the body of research suggesting that children’s HFDs are not valid for indicating level of emotional adjustment.


Child Psychology | Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences