Drawings as a window into developmental changes in object representations

AbstractHow do children's representations of object categories change as they grow older? As they learn about the world around them, they also express what they know in the drawings they make. Here, we examine drawings as a window into how children represent familiar object categories, and how this changes across childhood. We asked children (age 3-10 years) to draw familiar object categories on an iPad. First, we analyzed their semantic content, finding large and consistent gains in how well children could produce drawings that are recognizable to adults. Second, we quantified their perceptual similarity to adult drawings using a pre-trained deep convolutional neural network, allowing us to visualize the representational layout of object categories across age groups using a common feature basis. We found that the organization of object categories in older children's drawings were more similar to that of adults than younger children's drawings. This correspondence was especially strong for higher layers of the neural network, showing that older children’s drawings tend to capture high-level perceptual features critical for adult recognition. We hypothesize that this improvement reflects increasing convergence between children's representations of object categories and that of adults; future work will examines how these age-related changes relate to children's developing perceptual and motor capacities. Broadly, these findings point to drawing as a rich source of insight into how children represent object concepts.

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