“[T]here are really only two ways to draw a circle[.]”
June 15, 2017 9:52 PM   Subscribe

We used the public database from Google’s “Quick, Draw!” to compare how people draw basic shapes around the world. Our analysis suggests that the way you draw a simple circle is linked to geography and cultural upbringing, deep-rooted in hundreds of years of written language, and significant in developmental psychology and trends in education today.
Thu-Huong Ha and Nikhil Sonnad wrote an article for Quartz about how people draw circles and other things.
posted by Going To Maine (40 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
UK, drew it clockwise starting from 9 o'clock... I guess I'm a freak.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 10:05 PM on June 15


Apparently I have been drawing un-American circles my whole life. I can't even imagine drawing them counter-clockwise, what are you all doing!?!?
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 10:06 PM on June 15 [8 favorites]


Oh my god, they're the pod people aren't they.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 10:39 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


From the pictures, it looks like the majority of clockwise circles start on the bottom and counterclockwise start on the top, in both cases starting by moving to the left.

Of course, I'm a painfully right-handed native English speaker and draw clockwise circles starting from the top.
posted by ckape at 11:24 PM on June 15 [3 favorites]


Do squares/rectangles next! For years I have been accosting people with pen and paper to try and prove this - folks who grew up with what TFA calls "based on Chinese" scripts are far more likely to draw boxes in the same stroke order as the word 口 than anything else (the most telling trait, when going quickly is not picking up your pen between steps 2 and 3 and ending up with something that looks like this). I think I first noticed this in university, observing the variations in the way my math profs would draw their boxes around the final answer. The other two most common variations I called "the 4 sticks" and "like a circle, but pointy".
posted by btfreek at 11:26 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]


Huh. I CIRCLE something (like an X in the torque test) counterclockwise. But I DRAW a circle clockwise. Lifetime USian. And, apparently, weirdo.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 12:28 AM on June 16 [7 favorites]


That is really weird. Could there be anything in the selection (of people who do Quick, Draw!) that could skew the results? I can't even draw a circle counter clockwise (or a triangle clockwise). I tested how I do o's and they are clockwise too (starting from the top like the circles)
posted by mumimor at 12:34 AM on June 16


TheophileEscargot: UK, drew it clockwise starting from 9 o'clock... I guess I'm a freak.

Well obvs, yeah.
In a 1977 paper Theodore Blau, then-president of the American Psychological Association and creator of the torque test, argued that drawing clockwise circles was a sign of learning and behavioral aberrance. Children who drew with torque, he warned, might be at risk of schizophrenia.
posted by clawsoon at 12:38 AM on June 16


Another right-handed, lifetime USian (nice improvement on "American", btw) who draws clockwise circles, starting at the top.

Perhaps mefites are a non-conforming subset.
posted by she's not there at 12:51 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


It's a pity that they don't mention the clock drawing test - it's frequently used as one of the fastest tests of various cognitive/action skills, and while some use a pre-drawn circle, most get the patient to draw the circle of the clock themselves, as that is part of the useful information. I had never thought about direction/starting point before reading this article, and it made me look up some examples. Obviously google image search is a less than optimal tool, but the few examples where the starting point seems obvious it looks like the starting point for drawing the circle is preserved, for example this.

But beyond this, it seems that there is already a digital data set of clock drawing, and matching up that data with the Quick, Draw! data as a comparison would be utterly fascinating. And obviously doing the same with data sets from different countries as well... anyone looking for a research project?
posted by Vortisaur at 1:42 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


Always start at the top, always counter-clockwise. Same way I do the letter o for joined-up writing - the top is where your pen arrives from the previous letter, and where it should leave from for the next. I suppose you could do it clockwise but that would just feel weird.
posted by Dysk at 1:52 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


I think some of the counter clockwise practice comes from the English alphabet having a number of letters that are incomplete circles, with the right side the part which remains unfinished. So if you visualize an O as what a circle is, then since you're used to also making Cs and Gs in normal writing, you're more likely to proceed counter clockwise when making Os if you use the top part of the character as your starting point as that better fits common practice for all letter writing.

To make a clockwise C you'd start from the bottom of the letter, and with a G from the middle indentation or bottom and then add the hook at the end. It's faster to start from the top and make the G in one complete motion, even if that isn't exactly what some printing primers show as ideal.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:23 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth though, when drawing I usually often make circles clockwise if focused on the task as a visual element, but when writing or drawing quickly, counter clockwise is more common for me.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:25 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Well, it's clear I didn't read the entire article when I posted, as what I said was covered near the end. I guess I've learned my lesson for the day.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:40 AM on June 16


Huh, the torque test thing is interesting. I'm weakly left handed, and American, and my left-handed circles start at the top and run counterclockwise. My right-handed circles can go either way, but are mostly clockwise, I think.
posted by uncleozzy at 3:13 AM on June 16


Huh, I had never heard of "Quick, Draw!" That's fun, that is.
posted by chavenet at 4:16 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Like TheophileEscargot, I drew it clockwise from 9. Of course, if I wanted an actual circle, I would use a compass or circle template, probably also clockwise.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:26 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Another mefite who draws a circle clockwise starting from the top.
posted by sockermom at 4:29 AM on June 16


Brit, start at the top, counter-clockwise.
posted by Mister Bijou at 4:50 AM on June 16


I drew a circle clockwise, starting at 0 radians and ending at Tau radians. Only a Tab user would do it any other way, we space users know best. ;-)
posted by MikeWarot at 4:53 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


Apparently I draw circles and triangles differently from most Westerners, despite being right-handed. Same with 0 and O. If there were a history of schizophrenia in my family (and I weren't past the normal age of onset) I'd be really worried right now.
posted by supercres at 5:26 AM on June 16


Huh. I CIRCLE something (like an X in the torque test) counterclockwise. But I DRAW a circle clockwise. Lifetime USian. And, apparently, weirdo.

I do the same. The letter "O" is counterclockwise, but a drawn circle is clockwise.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:39 AM on June 16


I wonder how much using a mouse skews the results? My drawing motions are slightly different between mousing and using a pencil.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:41 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


My school put me in therapy for drawing circles the "wrong" direction when I was in first and second grade.
posted by aramaic at 6:40 AM on June 16


I drew the circle clockwise with my left hand. I'm a white American but studied Chinese for three years in college.

If there's a followup on how to draw a square, I will without question draw it the Chinese way. Once you get into that habit, it stays.

Super interesting article, thanks for posting!
posted by bile and syntax at 6:54 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


I drew my circle backwards, and I have truly horrible handwriting (besides never really excelling at fine-motor-skills based activities in general) I wonder if there's a correlation?
posted by bracems at 7:22 AM on June 16


If I'm trying to draw a circle, with a constant radius around a point, I do it clockwise from the top. If I'm writing a letter 'O' or a zero, and don't care about precision, I do it counterclockwise, starting from the top.
posted by rocket88 at 7:34 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


My school put me in therapy for drawing circles the "wrong" direction when I was in first and second grade.
I failed to advance a grade when I answered a first grade teacher's question, "would you like to learn to hold your pen correctly" with a petulant "no." I still can't decide whether to resent losing a year of post K-12 life, or to celebrate learning at a young age that authority figures can be fucking idiots. I still don't hold a pen right, but it isn't worth the time to find and chastise that horrible, imaginationless jerk.

But, this is the first metafilter-linked test where I show up as an absolutely typical American. Clockwise seems like a bizarre choice, though I have no explanation for why. Neat!
posted by eotvos at 7:44 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Apparently I have been drawing un-American circles my whole life. I can't even imagine drawing them counter-clockwise, what are you all doing!?!?

I bet you wipe standing up too.
posted by Splunge at 8:10 AM on June 16


I've been thinking about this all morning- and I've found something weird/interesting- if I'm writing words, I do standard American, counterclockwise O's, BUT if I am writing numbers, I do clockwise 0's! and then if I draw a circle after writing numbers down (even the date) vs taking word-notes, the directionality follows whatever I've just been doing. (I start both at about the 10 o'clock position though, not the true top)

In conclusion, every single print out I've reviewed today, and all of my meeting notes are covered in small circles.
posted by larthegreat at 8:17 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


I don't even know that I could force myself to draw a circle clockwise, it's just so instinctual to me to draw it counter clockwise. And based on my handwriting, the odds of it being all that close to a real circle aren't real high.

That said, most of the time I draw a circle these days, it's after spending 10 minutes trying to find the directions for how to do a circle in photoshop again, because I can't remember from the last time I did it.
posted by piper28 at 8:20 AM on June 16


I feel that handedness is an underconsidered issue here--the article dismisses it because handedness shouldn't vary so much, but different cultures accept left-handedness at different levels. When you don't have the pressure of a learned stroke order as with letters, you're less likely, I think, to draw back "against" your hand, as a lefty doing a counterclockwise circle does. As a lefty, I draw a circle clockwise starting at about nine p.m., but I make the top loop in a "g" counterclockwise.
posted by praemunire at 10:35 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


I drew my circle backwards, and I have truly horrible handwriting (besides never really excelling at fine-motor-skills based activities in general) I wonder if there's a correlation?

I'm dyspraxic and left handed, and I seem to tend towards big circles clockwise and little circles anticlockwise, but if I'm honest I'm usually just lucky to get the two ends of the line to connect at some point.
posted by howfar at 11:35 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


In the 'Draw a Circle' box in the article, I 'moused' CW, starting from 12:00 (USA right-hander)
But then I read the article and actually drew it. And it was natural to go CCW, again from the top.
(Turns out same with torque test circles)
Tried it repeatedly- much more comfortable drawing CCW and mousing CW.
No idea about left-handed. Neither one felt comfortable.

I'm not sure if my circles are a result of conditioning.
I spent several years filling out OCR documents, and it changed the way I write numbers. I'm much more careful.
I'm probably doing circles as 0. Same for O or o.
(My handwriting sucks, though)
posted by MtDewd at 2:13 PM on June 16


Interesting! I'm another right handed USian MeFite who draws circles clockwise, but starting at the bottom. O's are mostly counterclockwise and starting at the top though, due to an elderly teacher who was determined I would do it "the right way".

Just made Mr. Superna try, and he's camp counterclockwise for both.
posted by superna at 7:02 PM on June 16


Right handed Canadian who does them cw from 12:00.

An important thing in the Quick, Draw is closing your shapes.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:41 PM on June 16


Another thing that helps is to draw like a 6 year old. I draw storyboards for a living, so have to do this sort of thing all day long and it's not helping much. Google's version of things is surprisingly of primitive
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:48 PM on June 16


US, lefty, but most of my non writing actions are right handed. Clockwise at the top. can't even imagine what the rest of you are doing.

edit: just tested left handed on paper, and its counterclockwise, and wrote a couple words, too. Same thing. Never understood my handedness. Guess it's the "torque".
posted by lkc at 12:19 AM on June 17


I'm bicircular!
posted by kyrademon at 3:18 PM on June 17


Four sticks!
posted by SyraCarol at 6:30 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


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