Bending test: characteristics, functions and use

One of the classic tools of child psychology is the Bender test, Origin of gestalt and has proven to be a very effective tool for detecting possible developmental problems.

This is a test in which children have to try to copy exactly a series of cards in which geometric shapes and lines appear.

Let’s learn a little more about this test, understand how it is corrected and the expected scores by age group.

    What is the bend test?

    The Bender test is a test related to the psychology of gestalt used to assess the development of intelligence in children, As well as possible disorders and disabilities that may arise.

    This test was created by American psychiatrist Lauretta Bender between 1932 and 1938, based on the theoretical principles of Gestalt. According to this approach, the organism does not react to local stimuli with local responses, but responds to sets of stimuli with a global process.

    It is based on the idea that, According to the visuomotor function, different functions can be assessed, such as visual perception, fine motor skills, memory and awareness of space and time.. In addition, it is believed that visual perception depends on the degree of maturation of the central nervous system, so developmental issues could be detected with this test.

    Although the approach of which this part is widely criticized today, the truth is that the Bender test is considered a very good tool for detecting developmental issues, being considered an exception in the tests offered by the Gestalt.

    It is a very reliable and valid instrument, and also has a strong correlation with other psychological tests, including the WISC. It is also widely used as it involves very little intrusion for children, Since all they have to do is copy the test drawings.

    How is it applied?

    The test consists of ask the child to copy 9 figures on a blank sheet of paper with a pencil, As shown in a sample sheet. The numbers are:

    • Square circle
    • Dotted line
    • Three dotted lines placed like a ladder
    • Four dotted lines making waves
    • Square line and incomplete curve
    • Curve and diagonal line in points
    • Two curves that intersect perpendicularly
    • Overlapping glasses
    • Small glass inside the big glass

    The child, trying to copy all the figures, has to perform various visual and motor processes. First of all, it is about the figure to be copied, to make a mental representation, to try to remember it, to take the pencil, to try to draw the figure and to check if it is on the right track.

    the test can be applied to children over 4 years old, and children over 11 years old in most cases are able to copy the test drawings without error. If there were too many errors or if the resulting figure was very different from the one presented to them, one would consider the possibility that there was some kind of problem, both perceptible, intellectual and driving.

    Koppitz Protocol

    One of the most studied figures in the Bender test is Elizabeth Koppitz (1918-1983), who provided a protocol for assessing the following:

    • Maturity for learning
    • Reading problems
    • emotional difficulties
    • Possible brain damage
    • Mental disabilities.

    He published a book with scoring rules applicable to all children aged 4 to 11, Regardless of their intelligence or the type of problems they present. They are also applicable to subjects with a mental disability with a chronological age not exceeding 16 years but with a mental age below 10 years.

    The Koppitz system takes into account 25 elements which must be evaluated after the application of the test. Each element will be noted with a 0 or a 1, whether the copy of the figure was made correctly or not. The higher the score, the more of a problem there is.

    Koppitz’s protocol is not much different from how Bender herself applied the test, although she made it clear that during the test, one should avoid suggesting to the child that it be so precise and as meticulous as possible or that designs be completed more quickly.

    The child is told that he has nine drawings and that he should try to copy. You will receive a single blank folio and pencil and, in case you request another sheet later, it will be given to you but indicating that you have done so. It is important that during the test the assessor does not make any comments.

    The copy should start with card A (circle-square), showing the child the rest of the cards as they finish with the last draw they made, and going from 1 to 8. You will be told on each card that you will need to copy the design presented to you.

    If during the test the assessor is scoring or worrying too much about a particular aspect, he should receive a neutral response., For example “do what comes closest to the map”. In case he insists a lot, one can assume that he is dealing with a case of a perfectionist or compulsive child. The child should be prevented from helping by turning the card in any direction, indicating that he should shoot from the position given to him by the card.

    There is no time limit to administer this test, however it was considered that the maximum time for each card should be around 5 minutes, Since it is rare for the child to draw in less than 3 minutes.

    If time has passed, this incident should be noted, assuming it could be a slow or methodical child. On the other hand, if the child does not take more than 3 minutes, you may be dealing with a somewhat compulsive, impulsive, or thoughtless child, Although, of course, this will have to be combined with other evidence.

    However, if it is believed that some of the items the child tried to copy was done very quickly and does not reflect their actual skills, you may be asked to do it again. In this case, it should be noted in the protocol that the child has started again.


    The Bender test scores by age are as follows:

    • More than 13 points or errors – 5 years
    • 10 mistakes: 5 and a half years
    • 8 errors: 6 years
    • 5 errors: 7 years
    • 3 or 4 errors: 8 years
    • 2 errors or less: 9 or 10 children

    The following errors can occur when correcting the test.

    1. Confusion of the sequence

    Drawings do not follow the expected sequence, producing changes of direction and interrupting logical or expected progress.

    2. Collision

    Different patterns are stacked on the sheet of paper or the end of one is allowed to touch another.

    3. Layering of drawings

    The figures are drawn on top of each other.

    4. Revision

    The line of a part or the whole figure is highlighted or reviewed.

    5. Irregular line quality

    Irregular lines are drawn or the line is drawn with some flickering. This error is particularly striking when it occurs in older children.

    6. Difficulty fishing

    Remarkable distortion in the angles of the figures.

    7. Perseverance

    A complete drawing or part of the figure is drawn repeatedly. This is usually more evident in drawings made by rows of stitches.

    8. Line extension

    Extend a line or add lines that are not present in the example drawing.

    9. Pollution

    Parts of two different test figures are combined.

    10. Rotation

    Rotate one or more figures more than 45 ° from their standard shape.

    11. Omission

    Leave space in a figure that is not in example, or just play a role. Separate or fragment parts of a drawing.

    12. Retrogression

    Replace lines or dots with circles, dashes with dots, or fill in the figure.

    Correlation between the Bender test and the WISC

    Different studies have shown a strong correlation between the executive part of the WISC (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children) tests and the Bender test. This seems to happen regardless of age, which confirms that the Bender test measures many functions that are also assessed in that particular part of the WISC and in some cases serve as a surrogate or control test.

    Another interesting fact is that in children aged 7-10 years there is a correlation between the scores obtained on the WISC arithmetic test and the Bender test. The explanation is that the arithmetic test involves partial relations and numerical concepts which are also found, albeit in a slightly more hidden way, in the Bender test.

      Neurological problems and the Bender test

      Bender’s test can help us suspect neurological damage, especially if the child is over 11 and is not doing the test correctly.

      However, it must be said that the ability to detect possible neurological alterations in this test is low, Since there are many reasons why a child does not take the test correctly, without it being necessary to talk about brain damage. Additionally, there may be brain damage that does not affect visuospatial ability and therefore is not reflected in the results of this test.

      emotional indicators

      Bender’s test has also been associated with emotional problems, although, in the same way that we talked about the case of neurological problems, this test it is not reliable enough to diagnose a mood or anxiety problem.

      However, it can help us suspect that something is wrong in the person’s immediate environment, and that a deeper history will need to be taken, which will assess the emotional aspects.

      Likewise, and from a very Gestalt perspective, several explanations have been proposed behind the various errors that may arise during the test.

      1. Confused order of drawings

      This indicator seems to be linked to the child’s lack of planning and organization. This is a normal thing in young children, especially in the 5 and 7 age group, as they still draw in a somewhat confusing way.

      The indicator only acquires diagnostic significance at age 8, when the arbitrary distribution across the leaf is something that should already be considered an indicator of a possible problem.

      2. Corrugated line

      The wavy line in figures 1 (dotted line) and 2 (three lines) is associated with a lack of emotional stability. In young children it is possible that, since they do not yet have much control over what they draw, they do it a bit irregularly, but in children almost 8 years old, this is already a reason. to suspect emotional problems.

      3. Replacing circles with lines

      In adults, it is associated with some kind of emotional disorder and is rare. In young children, it is linked to impulsivity and lack of interest or attention.

      4. Gradual increase in size

      This has been linked to a low tolerance for frustration and impulsivity. In the most obvious cases, it can be a sign of disruptive and violent behavior as well as ADHD.

      5. Large size of the characters

      It is associated with outsourcing behavior. They are usually children with obsessive and demanding patterns.

      6. Drawings size

      It is associated with internalizing behavior, withdrawal, shyness and anxiety. It acquires diagnostic significance in children aged 8-10 years. If the designs are concentrated in a specific area of ​​the paper, they would further confirm the hint of shrinkage, depending on the Gestalt assumptions.

      7. Fine line

      It is associated with shyness and withdrawal in young children, although not so clear in other children. It has been speculated that in more children it could be somewhere between laziness, perfectionism, and emotional weakness.

      8. Examination of figures and lines

      It is linked to aggression and impulsivity.

      9. Second attempt

      It is linked to anxiety, impulsivity, and various emotional issues. There are children who after the first attempt are not satisfied with their drawing, see that they did it wrong but do not know how to correct, so they try again on another side of the sheet.

      10. Expansion and use of more sheets

      It is an indicator of disruptive, explosive and even violent behavioral tendencies.. It is linked to poor planning and poor use of space. It has been linked to neurological disorders and externalizing behaviors.

      11. Restriction or reduced use of the sheet

      It is linked to problems such as withdrawal, shyness and depression.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Moetesum, M. and Siddiqi, I. and Masroor, U. and Djeddi, C. (2015). Automated scoring of the Bender Gestalt test using image analysis techniques. ICDAR 2015
      • Bender, L. (1997). Guestalt visuomotor test (BG). Paidós. p. 15-16. ISBN 84-7509-308-6.

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