If you need to remember something, you probably have a strategy or two to decrease your odds of forgetting. Many people like to write things down. Some believe that even if they never look back at their notes, they'll still be more likely to remember what they wrote simply by completing that exercise. And they may be right. But if you really want to increase your chances of remembering something, there's something better you can do once you pick up that pencil and notepad.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo investigated whether people were more likely to remember items from a list if they wrote the items out repeatedly or if they drew pictures of them. For the study, the participants had a list of words that were easy to draw and had 40 seconds to draw a picture of each word or write it down multiple times. They then completed a filler exercise. The researchers then gave the participants 60 seconds to write down as many words from the original list as they could.
Those who drew pictures of the words remembered far more of them. In fact, participants were twice as likely to remember the words they had drawn than the words they had written. Jeffrey Wammes, PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology, explains, "We believe that the benefit arises because drawing helps to create a more cohesive memory trace that better integrates visual, motor, and semantic information."
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Interestingly, recall didn't improve if the participants drew the words repeatedly. Nor did it if they added visual details, like shading or doodles, to the written words. One simple drawing was all that was necessary to drastically improve recall. In fact, this worked even when participants had only four seconds to draw, so it doesn't matter how good of an artist you are. It was even better than listing out the physical characteristics of the object, creating a mental image, or looking at pictures of the object.
So if you're prone to leaving your grocery list at home, you may have better luck remembering what you need if you draw pictures of the produce and dry goods you need to pick up. Maybe even consider drawing a picture of yourself bringing your list with you!
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD