A new study found that drawing information you need to remember is a very efficient way to enhance your memory. The researchers believe that the act of drawing helps create a more cohesive memory as it integrates visual, motor and semantic information.

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“We pitted drawing against a number of other known encoding strategies, but drawing always came out on top,” said lead author Jeffrey Wammes, PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Waterloo.

Wammes’ team included fellow PhD candidate Melissa Meade and Professor Myra Fernandes. Together, they enlisted some of the University’s students’ help and presented them with a list of simple, easily drawn words, such as “apple.” Participants were given 40 seconds in which to draw or write out the the word repeatedly. After this, they were given a filler task of classifying musical tones, to facilitate memory retention. In the last step of the trial, the students were asked to recall as many of the initial words as they could 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.”

In later variations of this experiment, students were asked to draw the words repeatedly or add visual details to the written letters — shading or doodling on them for example. Here, the team found the same results; memorizing by drawing was more efficient than 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 4 seconds to draw their picture,” said Wammes.

While the drawing effect proved itself in testing, its worth noting that the experiments were conducted with single words only. The team is now working to find out why the memory benefit of drawing is so powerful, and if it can be carried over to other types of information.

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The full paper, titled “The drawing effect: Evidence for reliable and robust memory benefits in free recall” has been published online in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology and can be read here.

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