People are much better at remembering pictures rather than words. Here’s what the studies show, with tips on how you can use images to improve memory.
Why do most people remember pictures better than words? It’s called the picture superiority effect, a phenomenon proven by many studies to be an effective way to improve memory. Here are four examples.
1. Draw it, don’t photograph it
Simply drawing something can help you remember it, according to the Journal of Experimental Psychology. The technique is reportedly responsible for “encouraging a seamless integration of semantic, visual, and motor aspects of a memory trace (Wammes et al., 2016).”
Though it might seem logical to improve memory by taking a photograph, the opposite may actually be true. The American Association for Psychological Science published a study from researchers who told students to take note of certain objects in a museum, either by taking pictures or making mental notes.
The results showed that those who used their cameras were less likely to remember the the objects they focused on , compared to those who didn’t use cameras. Using a camera may actually reduce the likelihood that you’ll build a lasting memory.
2. Fuse pictures and words
Researchers also say people can improve memory by mentally fusing pictures and words. Many speechwriters already know this trick and use it to their advantage when crafting memorable presentations.
In the Harvard Business Review, Andrew Carton of Wharton wrote about the ways that image-based words can paint vivid pictures in people’s minds that are very powerful and memorable .
Carton cites examples of phrases that produce highly memorable images, including John F. Kennedy’s vision of “landing a man on the moon” and Winston Churchill’s promise to “fight in the fields and in the streets“.
3. Add context to improve memory
Q: Which of the four nature images above seems the most memorable?
According to researchers at MIT, the last picture should be the easiest to remember, because it has a person in the image. In the MIT study, hundreds of people were shown various pictures of interiors, streetscapes and landscapes. In general, pictures with people in them were the most memorable. Least memorable were plain natural landscapes, according to the research.
4. Use a memory palace filled with pictures
Card counters, poets, philosophers and others use memory palaces as a way to store, organize and retrieve memories and images in “rooms”. Essentially, build a memory palace is an act of creating bizarre visualizations that encode and store memories in an organized way.
Journalist Joshu Foer wrote about the topic in The New York Times and practiced it so effectively that he became the 2006 USA national memory champion. In his article he wrote: “What distinguishes a great mnemonist, I learned, is the ability to create lavish images on the fly, to paint in the mind a scene so unlike any other it cannot be forgotten.”
Remembering pictures better than words seems to be a hard-wired part of being human. Studies of Alzheimer Disease patients showed that even as their mental capacity declined, patients were able to remember pictures better than words.
Some of those living with Autism have reported that they think totally in pictures and can leverage their visual thinking to accomplish many things.