Drawing memory from an unexpected place

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There’s an old saying that states, “the weakest ink lasts longer than the strongest memory,” implying that one is always better off taking notes on a subject, rather than just trying to commit it all to memory. However, based on a new study, perhaps the phrase should be updated to “paint,” instead of, “ink.”

The study in question, conducted by the University of Waterloo,  has shown that the simple act of drawing pictures can increase a person’s ability to retain information. This was dubbed the drawing effect. While conducting the study, subjects were asked to memorize a random set of 30 words and were then asked to repeat the process with a different set of words while drawing pictures to help them remember. Even without looking at the pictures they had drawn, subjects were usually able to remember the list better by drawing pictures.

A similar test was conducted in which subjects were instructed to memorize the definition of a word, either by taking notes or drawing pictures. In this experiment, the a similar result followed. Those who drew pictures instead of taking notes had an easier time remembering the definition. So, in either case, memory retention appeared to improve when pictures were used as a note taking technique.

The question still remains, however, as to why this is so. According to the researchers, the primary reason that the drawing effect exists is because of the cognitive requirements that it entails. When a person writes a word down, it only remains in their head briefly as nothing more than a word. The process of drawing a word, however, requires the brain to think about its meaning and find a way to properly represent it visually. Hence, the process of actually thinking about the meaning of a word helps to better imprint it on your long term memory.

During the study, the researchers went beyond simply interviewing students. The same tests were conducted with senior citizens suffering from dementia, a condition that severely affects memory.

As with students, the drawing effect increased the memory retention of these senior citizens, showing how much influence it can have on all people of varying cognitive backgrounds.

So, when you are studying for exams, you only need to remember one thing from this article.

Be sure to include as many diagrams as you can in your study notes. The simple process of drawing pictures to go along with your notes will force you to have a better memory.

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