Need help in remembering a difficult concept? A solution may literally be at your fingertips as new research suggests drawing pictures of information that needs to be remembered enhances memory.
“We pitted drawing against a number of other known encoding strategies, but drawing always came out on top,” said the study’s lead author, Jeffrey Wammes, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Waterloo.
“We believe that the benefit arises because drawing helps to create a more cohesive memory trace that better integrates visual, motor, and semantic information.”
In the study, researchers presented student participants with a list of simple, easily drawn words, such as “apple.” The students were given 40 seconds to either draw the word, or write it out repeatedly. They were then given a filler task of classifying musical tones to facilitate the retention process.
Finally, the researchers asked students to freely recall as many words as possible from the initial list in just 60 seconds.
“We discovered a significant recall advantage for words that were drawn as compared to those that were written,” said Wammes.
“Participants often recalled more than twice as many drawn than written words. We labelled this benefit ‘the drawing effect,’ which refers to this distinct advantage of drawing words relative to writing them out.”
Drawing the words or concepts, however crudely appears to be the best method for retention.
In variations of the experiment in which students drew the words repeatedly, or added visual details to the written letters, such as shading or other doodles, the results remained unchanged.
Memory for drawn words was superior to all other alternatives. Drawing led to better later memory performance than listing physical characteristics, creating mental images, and viewing pictures of the objects depicted by the words.
“Importantly, the quality of the drawings people made did not seem to matter, suggesting that everyone could benefit from this memory strategy, regardless of their artistic talent. In line with this, we showed that people still gained a huge advantage in later memory, even when they had just four seconds to draw their picture,” said Wammes.
While the drawing effect proved reliable in testing, the experiments were conducted with single words only. Wammes and his team are currently trying to determine why this memory benefit is so potent, and how widely it can be applied to other types of information.