Need to remember something? Better draw it, study finds

Drawing pictures of information that needs to be remembered is a strong and reliable strategy to enhance memory.

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April 23, 2016: To enhance your memory, you should draw what you’re trying to remember according to researchers at the University of Waterloo.

Jeffrey Wammes, PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology states that drawing is absolutely the best encoding strategy.

 “We believe that the benefit arises because drawing helps to create a more cohesive memory trace that better integrates visual, motor and semantic information.”, said Wammes

In the study, student participants were presented 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. In the last stage, the researchers asked students to freely recall as many words as possible from the initial list in just 60 seconds.

Those participants that wrote the words didn’t remember as many words as those who had drawn them.

 “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.” said Wammes.


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 4 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.


The study appeared in the the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Original article provided by University of Waterloo can be reprinted or edited for content and length.


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