Chances are if you’re reading this article, you’re probably already aware of the incredible power of the human brain. But you’re probably also aware that despite being an organ so intricate and advanced that scientists still don’t fully understand it, our minds also have a major shortcoming. That would be memory.
One way of understanding this would be to compare the brain to a supercomputer that can perform complex tasks with incredible speed. The problems arise when our supercomputers begin randomly hiding and deleting files, making them inaccessible to us. What we need is an update to fix this glitch.
There are foods, brain games, and natural remedies that all promise to improve memory. But a new study shows that one of the best ways to strengthen recall might be an activity that most of us gave up on as children.
Drawing Memories Into Our Brains
Now, a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests that drawing might be tremendously beneficial to short-term memory.1 Though this may sound strange, the article actually notes that the theory of drawing enhancing memory is nothing new. In fact, research from as early as the mid-1970s shows “dual coding” – in this case both drawing and thinking about an object at once – having a positive impact on recall.2
The new research, conducted by a team led by Jeffrey Wammes of the University of Waterloo, is important because it proves for the first time that drawing is a uniquely memory enhancing technique.3 While early studies simply compared drawers and non-drawers, the Experimental Psychology paper used a number of control groups. This enabled the researchers to prove that drawing, but not other techniques like writing a word or repeating it out loud, uniquely improves memory.
To prove this, Wammes’ team showed study participants groups of 30 random, simple, and easy to sketch words like “kite,” “pear,” or “balloon.” After seeing the word on screen, test subjects would draw, write down, describe, or say the object. Once they had repeated this sequence 30 times, subjects would perform a “filler task” such as identifying the pitch of different tones. Finally, they would write down as many of their 30 words as they could recall.
The findings were remarkable. Drawing, whether for four seconds, 40 seconds, or anywhere in-between, beat out all other memory techniques. According to Wammes, there was a “significant recall advantage for words that were drawn,” and participants “often recalled more than twice as many drawn than written words.”4
We Don’t Know Why, But It Just Works!
Despite these conclusive results, the research team still isn’t entirely clear why drawing improves memory so much more than any other technique. Though drawing an object requires a deeper level of processing than simply writing it down, describing has a similar effect. As a matter of fact, even those who drew their objects for only four seconds had better recall than those who described their objects.
Wammes speculated that the seamless integration of semantic, visual, and motor aspects of drawing an object might be the cause.5 Employing all of these pathways at once may create memories that are more deeply planted in your brain and more easily recalled. After all, even describing or speaking a word doesn’t involve motor control or visual stimulation.
Now that you know the power of drawing, give the technique a try. Next time you need to remember a doctor’s appointment, try doodling a picture of a stethoscope. It may sound silly or childish, but it’s an easy way to sharpen your memory and improve recall. Break out the sketchpads!