Our recent findings

Children can alter their drawings of positive and negative information depending on who they think will see the drawings and need to know the emotional character of the drawn topics. This study found that children take into account the professional authority and familiarity of the audience (men, male teachers and policemen) when drawing positive or negative features about themsleves. Children were more expresisve overall with familiar audiences and boys showed more negative information to unfamiliar policemen whilst girls showed more happy expressivity to familar policmen.

Burkitt, E., Watling, D., & Message, H. (2019). Expressivity in children's drawings of themselves for adult aduiences with varied authority and familiarity. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, doi 10.1111/bjdp.21278 


We know that chidlren feel different emotions at the same time and that these types of experinces might be hard to speak about and verbalise. A graph showing different types of simultaneous mixed emotions in adulthood has been adpated to work with children. It reveals different kinds of emotional experiences than verbal reports and shows that experiencing types of mixed emotions that vary by intensity increase through middle childhood. Using this graph that allows children to show how long feelings last and how intense they are often at the same time could be used to supplement verbal discussion about their emotional experinces.

Burkitt, E., Lowry, R., & Fotheringham, F. (2018). Children's understanding of mixed emotions in self and other: Verbal reports and visual representations. Infant and Child Development, e2076, 27.3


Sometimes chidlren draw topics they feel positively and negatively about and sometimes we may look at them and see what we think is expressive yet the children may not and vice versa! This study shows that overall adults are quite good at seeing expressive features that children explain as beng expressive and meaninful to them. Adults may not be as accurate however at seeing mixed emotional features as ones that reflect single emotions.

Burkitt, E. (2017). Asessing the concordance between child reports and adult observations of single and mixed emotion in children's drawings of themsleves or another child. Educational Psychology, 38(1), 75-98,

We know that drawings are visually available to an audience and that children may communicate emotions differently depending on who they think will need to understand their drawings. We now know that the levels of expressiveness of happy and sad images can vary depending on how explicitly we ask for the communication of emotions depending upon the topics children draw. Children use much more literal types of expression when drawing happy and sad inanimate topics such as tress than when drawing animate topics such as people. They draw with increasing expressivity when drawing both inanimate and animate topics overall.

Burkitt, E. (2016). The effects of task explicitness to communicate on the expressiveness of children’s drawings of different topics, Educational Psychology, pp. 1–18, 2016

Have you ever looked at a child’s drawing and thought that looks happy or that looks sad? Have you ever asked a child which single feeling they might be drawing? It could be that mixed emotions of happiness and sadness are being depicted. Children in middle childhood tend to draw mixed emotion using red, green and blue when drawing another child, and yellow more in drawings of themselves. Children experiencing and depicting mixed emotion are  more likely to use positive features such as a wave or a smile when drawing themselves than when drawing another child. It is possible that children present themselves as feeling positive in a drawing when they may actually  be having mixed feelings.

Burkitt, E. & Watling, D. (2015). How do children who understand mixed emotion represent them in freehand drawings of themselves and others? Journal of Educational Psychology: An International Journal of Experimental Educational Psychology. doi: 1080/01443410.2015.1044942


Teachers, pupils, guardians and parents may have very different views about what makes a good drawing and how to learn best about drawing. We found that across two schooling contexts where children receive lower or higher degrees of drawing education that children were equally calling out for more help to copy from a teacher to learn how to draw whilst the majority of parents across schooling contexts thought that their children would benefit more from having more expressive drawing activity.

Burkitt, E. & Lowry, R. (2015). Attitudes and practices that shape children’s drawing behaviour in mainstream and performing arts schools, The International Journal of Art & Design Education, 34, 1, 25-43.