How You Draw A Circle Is Linked To Your Cultural Upbringing

Take out a piece of paper (go ahead — we'll wait), then draw a simple circle. Did you draw it clockwise, or counterclockwise? What about location —did you start at the top or the bottom? It might sound crazy, but you can actually learn quite a bit about a person's background from the way they draw a circle. Wait, your circle looks like that?


What's Your Stroke Order?

Let's start with a couple fun facts: if you're American, there's an 86 percent chance that you draw your circles counterclockwise, while 80 percent of people living in Japan draw their circles in the opposite direction. How do we know? In November 2016, Google released an AI game called "Quick, Draw!" Similar to the game Pictionary, users are given a drawing prompt, then Google's algorithm attempts to guess what your masterpiece is in 20 seconds or less. Quartz then used their data of 119,000 unique circles to reveal how different people draw circles. They discovered that the direction in which you form your circle is surprisingly "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." Just apply some simple geometry to the data, and voilà!

There are only two ways to draw a circle—clockwise and counterclockwise—and each nation strongly favors one or the other. But why? It likely comes down to language. Quartz elaborates: "Both Japanese and Chinese scripts follow a strict stroke order. On the whole, characters are drawn from top left in the direction of the bottom right." A 1985 study revealed that a majority of people living in China draw their circles clockwise "perhaps because of the clockwise strokes in semi-cursive Chinese calligraphy." Stroke order is so important in these countries, in fact, that it "can even signal education level." On the flip side, Americans are taught to draw shapes counterclockwise in order to prep their motor movements for "magic c" letter formation—e.g. the curve in letters c, g, q, and o.

Your Taps Tell All

What else can you surmise from a circle? Well, there hasn't been much research on shape-drawing in the field of psychology since before 1997, but, as Quartz points out, that might be due to an increase of communication through typing and tapping. If the movements of a pen stroke can mean so much, however, what might we learn about typing in the future? To be continued in 2027.

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