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A theory of pictures: investigating the mediating role of picture modality in children's understanding of the picture-creator and picture-referent relationships

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Emma Armitage
Publication date2015
Number of pages293
Awarding Institution
Award date3/02/2015
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This thesis investigates how 3- to 8-year-old children construct a theory of pictures with a particular focus on how children prioritise appearance and intentional cues when decoding the picture-referent relationship, and whether picture modality mediates children’s understanding of how pictures relate to the world and their creators. Experiments 1, 2 and 3 explore whether appearance or intentional cues dominate 3- to 6-year-old children and adults picture interpretation when the two cues conflict. Experiment 4 investigates how 4- and 6-year-old children and adults use artists and photographers’ intentions to name and judge the value of photographs and drawings. Experiment 5 addresses children’s knowledge of the divergent roles played by artists and photographers in creating pictures. Experiment 6 examines children’s understanding of how a picture creator’s visual access to, and knowledge of, their intended referent affects their ability to depict it. Finally, Experiments 7 and 8 assess children’s ability to consider the interaction between picture modality and referential content to identify whether a confederate is more likely to have created a fantasy drawing or a fantasy photograph (e.g. a unicorn). Collectively, the findings from these experiments reveal that children’s early understanding of the referential nature of pictures is supplemented by modality-specific knowledge about drawing and photography. More specifically, between the ages of 3 and 8 children display a growing understanding that while drawings rely to a large extent on the minds of their artists, in particular their intentions and imagination, photographs depend on their real world referents more so than their photographer’s intentions or referent knowledge. Theoretically, confirmation that children’s pictorial development entails an understanding of different modalities warranted the inclusion of two modality-specific streams, one for photography and one for drawing, into existing frameworks of pictorial understanding.