Drawing pictures of words helps build stronger and more reliable memories, new research finds.
The quality of the drawings themselves does not matter, the study also found.
This suggests everyone can benefit from the technique, whatever their artistic talent.
Mr Jeffrey Wammes, the study’s first author, explained:
“We pitted drawing against a number of other known encoding strategies, but drawing always came out on top.
We believe that the benefit arises because drawing helps to create a more cohesive memory trace that better integrates visual, motor and semantic information.”
People in the study were given a series of easily drawn words, like ‘apple’.
Some repeated the word out loud for 40 seconds, others drew it.
After a minute doing another task to fill in the time, they had to recall as many words as they could.
Mr Wammes explained the results:
“We discovered a significant recall advantage for words that were drawn as compared to those that were written.
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.”
The researchers tried tweaking the drawing instructions to see if it made any difference to memory.
Sometimes people added doodles, shading or other visual details.
It turned out the tweaks made made little difference, Mr Wammes said:
“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 4 seconds to draw their picture.”
The next phase of the research will be to see if the same principle can be applied to more complex words an ideas.
The study was published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology (Wammes et al., 2016).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Thinking image from Shutterstock