Museum of Science, Boston

Local and global processing

Is drawing ability related to children’s visual and spatial skills?

Our research has shown that children who learn to draw objects realistically are also able to look at a complex visual image and mentally break it up into smaller parts. We refer to this as “local” processing. We now want to find out whether drawing skills are also associated with the ability to look at a complex visual image and grasp its overall structure. We refer to this as “global” processing.

To answer this question, we will ask children ages 6-12 to do three things. First, we ask children to draw a picture of their own hand. Next, we examine local processing by showing children a geometric pattern and asking them to copy the pattern using a set of colored blocks. Local processing allows children to segment the original pattern into its smaller parts. Finally, we examine global processing by showing children a series of figures on a computer screen, some of which are “possible” objects, and some of which are “impossible” objects. We ask children to classify each object as possible or impossible. Global processing allows children to grasp the overall structure of the figure and judge whether it is possible or impossible. We will compare children’s drawings with their performance on local and global processing tasks to see if these skills are related to one another.

This research will help us understand the perceptual skills that underlie and support the ability to draw from observation.

Learn about other research related to Human Biology.

This research is conducted by the Arts & Mind Lab at Boston College

Try it at the Museum

Optical Illusions

Check out the optical illusions at the central kiosk in the Human Body Connection! Find a picture showing an “impossible” shape. What makes it impossible?

Some pictures look like one image when you focus on small details, and another when you look at the overall shape. Try looking at the optical illusion pictured here. What do you see? Is there anything else in the image?

Try it at Home

Drawing from Observation

Practice drawing a picture of your hand each day for a week. How does your drawing change over time? What new things do you notice? Do you pay attention to the details or the entire shape?