Drawing as a versatile cognitive tool

Fan, Judith. E.; Bainbridge, Wilma. A.; Chamberlain, Rebecca and Wammes, Jeffrey. D.. 2023. Drawing as a versatile cognitive tool. Nature Reviews Psychology, 2(9), pp. 556-568. ISSN 2731-0574 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Drawing is a cognitive tool that makes the invisible contents of mental life visible. Humans use this tool to produce a remarkable variety of pictures, from realistic portraits to schematic diagrams. Despite this variety and the prevalence of drawn images, the psychological mechanisms that enable drawings to be so versatile have yet to be fully explored. In this Review, we synthesize contemporary work in multiple areas of psychology, computer science and neuroscience that examines the cognitive processes involved in drawing production and comprehension. This body of findings suggests that the balance of contributions from perception, memory and social inference during drawing production varies depending on the situation, resulting in some drawings that are more realistic and other drawings that are more abstract. We also consider the use of drawings as a research tool for investigating various aspects of cognition, as well as the role that drawing has in facilitating learning and communication. Taken together, information about how drawings are used in different contexts illuminates the central role of visually grounded abstractions in human thought and behaviour.

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This work was supported by a NSF CAREER grant (2047191) to J.E.F., a NSERC Discovery grant to J.D.W., and a NIH grant (R01EY034432) and APF F. J. McGuigan Early Career Investigator Research Grant on Understanding the Human Mind to W.A.B.

This version of the article has been accepted for publication, after peer review (when applicable) and is subject to Springer Nature’s AM terms of use, but is not the Version of Record and does not reflect post-acceptance improvements, or any corrections. The Version of Record is available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s44159-023-00212-w


vision, production, perception, concepts, memory, learning, communication

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21 June 2023Accepted
17 July 2023Published Online
September 2023Published

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Date Deposited:

18 Jul 2023 12:55

Last Modified:

17 Jan 2024 02:26

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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