Typically used with children, the subject is asked to draw a picture of a man, a woman, and themselves. No further instructions are given and the pictures are analyzed on a number of dimensions. Aspects such as the size of the head, placement of the arms, and even things such as if teeth were drawn or not are thought to reveal a range of personality traits (Murstein, 1965). The personality traits can be anything from aggressiveness, to homosexual tendencies, to relationships with their parents, to introversion and extroversion (Machover, 1949). There are many versions of the test, but the one discussed in detail here is the version by Karen Machover in 1949.
The official beginning of when figure drawing was first thought to be associated with personality is unknown. Whether it was the drawing on a cave wall, a painting by a great artist, or a doodle made by an average person, the curiosity somehow came about. However, the formal beginning of it’s use for psychological assessment is known to begin with Florence Goodenough, a child psychologist, in 1926 (Scott, 1981).
Goodenough first became interested in figure drawing when she wanted to find a way to supplement the Stanford-Binet intelligence test with a nonverbal measure. The test was developed to assess maturity in young people. She concluded that the amount of detail involved in a child’s drawing could be used as an effective tool. This led to the development of the first official assessment using figure drawing with her development of the Draw-A-Man test. Over the years, the test has been revised many times with added measures for assessing intelligence (Weiner & Greene, 2008). Harris later revised the test including drawings of a woman and of themselves. Now considered the Goodenough-Harris Test it has guidelines for assessing children from ages 6 to 17 (Scott, 1981).
Soon after the development of the test, psychologists started considering the test for measures of differences in personality as well as intelligence. In 1949, Karen Machover developed the first measure of figure drawing as a personality assessment with the Draw A Person Test (Machover, 1949).
Machover did a lot of work with disturbed adolescents and adults and used the test to assess people of all ages. She wrote a book on her measure expressing that the features of the figures drawn reflect underlying attitudes, concerns, and personality traits. In her test, she included a suggestion to ask about the person they have drawn. She advises to ask them to tell the administrator a story about the figure as if they were in a novel or play. Machover used a qualitative approach in her interpretation considering individual drawing characteristics (Machover, 1949). Others have since suggested a more quantitative approach that can be more widely used analyzing selected characteristics that are in an index of deeper meanings (Murstein, 1965).
The most popular quantitative approach was developed by Elizabeth Koppitz. Koppitz developed a measure of assessment that has a list of emotional indicators including size of figures, omission of body parts, and some “special features”. The total number of the indicators is simply added up to provide a number that represents the likeliness of disturbance (Murstein, 1965).
With the Draw a Person test as a base, a number of other tests have developed using figure drawing as a personality assessment tool. For example, the House-Tree-Person test similarly just asks the person to draw those three objects and then inquires about what they have drawn. The questions asked for inquiry include what kinds of activities go on in the house, what are the strongest parts of the tree, and what things make the person angry or sad. The KFD (Kinetic Family Drawing) tells the drawer to draw their family doing something (Murstein, 1965).
All of these tests have the important element of not only the assessment of the pictures themselves, but also the thematic variables involved. Every figure drawing test asks the drawer to include some kind of description or interpretation of what is happening in the picture. These elements are also analyzed accordingly (Weiner & Greene, 2008).
-Easy to administer (only about 20-30 minutes plus 10 minutes of inquiry)
-Helps people who have anxieties taking tests (no strict format)
-Can assess people with communication problems
-Relatively culture free
-Allow for self administration
-Restricted amount of hypotheses can be developed
-Relatively non-verbal, but may have some problems during inquiry
-Little research backing
The Ipad/Ipod Touch has a free app that uses this type of test. Dr.Touch is an app closely resembling the House-Tree-Person Test which is similar to the draw a person test. You draw whatever it asks on the screen and then it gives you a personality assesment according to your drawing. Here’s an example of someone using it:
Machover, K. (1949). Personality projection: in the drawing of a human figure. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas Publisher.
Murstein, B. (1965). Handbook of projective techniques. New York, NY: Basic Books Inc.
Scott, L. (1981). Measuring intelligence with the goodenough-harris drawing test. Psychological bulletin, 89(3), 483-505.
Weiner, I, & Greene, R. (2008). Handbook of personality assessment. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.