How does draw­ing help your me­mory

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By LINDA BLAIR

Do you have cer­tain things you par­tic­u­larly need to re­mem­ber? Rather than list writ­ing or mind map­ping, it seems you’ll have the best chance of do­ing so if you get out a pen­cil and paper and draw what you want to re­call.

This is the con­clu­sion reached by Jef­frey Wammes and his team of re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Water­loo in Canada. They were in­ter­ested in dis­cov­er­ing the most re­li­able way to en­hance me­mory.

The good news is that the qual­ity of the draw­ings doesn’t seem to mat­ter — you’ll still gain the ben­e­fits

They be­gan by giv­ing a large group of stu­dents a list of 40 easy-to-vi­su­alise words such as ‘ap­ple’. They al­lot­ted the stu­dents 40 sec­onds per word. They asked half of them to copy each word re­peat­edly while the other half were in­structed to drawa pic­ture of each one.

Next, they asked ev­ery­one to com­plete what’s known as a “filler task” — in this case, to clas­sify the pitch of a set of mu­si­cal tones. Hav­ing had no pre­vi­ous warn­ing, the stu­dents were then asked to try to re­mem­ber as many of the words as pos­si­ble. Those who had been asked to draw the words they’d been given re­mem­bered more than twice as­many as did those who were asked to copy the words.

Me­mory is a by-prod­uct of how deeply we process the in­for­ma­tion we wish to re­mem­ber.

To make sure that draw­ing was the rea­son for the im­proved re­call and not any other fac­tor, the team then con­ducted a se­ries of fur­ther ex­per­i­ments. They asked some stu­dents to write the words and then to add vis­ual de­tails, for ex­am­ple doo­dling or shad­ing let­ters. They asked oth­ers to cre­ate men­tal im­ages of the words; oth­ers to look at pic­tures of the ob­jects de­picted by those words; still oth­ers to list phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics of each word on the list. Ev­ery time, those who drew pic­tures of the words re­mem­bered more of them than those who were asked to use any other strat­egy.

Why is it that draw­ing is such a pow­er­ful aide-mem­oire?

The keys are ef­fort and mean­ing. In a fa­mous paper pub­lished in 1972, Fer­gus Craik and Robert Lock­hart pro­posed that me­mory is a by-prod­uct of how deeply we process the in­for­ma­tion we wish to re­mem­ber. The more work we put into learn­ing the ma­te­rial — and in par­tic­u­lar, the more we at­tempt to un­der­stand what it means and re­late the ma­te­rial to our own ex­pe­ri­ence — the more likely we are to re­mem­ber it.

When we draw some­thing we’ve read, we must trans­late the lan­guage into an im­age, and this will of course re­quire us to call up other ex­am­ples of that in­for­ma­tion from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence. We then en­gage our mo­tor skills to draw it. As Wammes put it, it is this ‘ seam­less in­te­gra­tion of se­man­tic, vis­ual and mo­tor as­pects’ that cre­ates such a strong me­mory trace.

So next time you want to give your­self the best chance of re­mem­ber­ing some­thing, try your hand at draw­ing it. The good news is that the qual­ity of the draw­ings doesn’t seem to mat­ter—you’ ll gain the ben­e­fits even if you don’t con­sider your­self to be much of an artist.

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