With the semester already in full swing, the student brain is teeming with an overwhelming amount of information. Assignments are due next week, a project needs to be completed and there is a quiz early Monday morning. How often is “buy textbook” scribbled onto a piece of paper or typed into a phone before it’s remembered?
There may be an easier way to memorize than just writing it down, according to The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. Jeffery Wammes, Melissa Meade and Myra Fernandes at the University of Waterloo, Canada, have found a way for artists and the artistically inept to remember a list of items.
In several experiments, Wammes and his research team introduced a group of students to a list of easily drawn words, such as “apple.” The participants had to either write down the word or draw the item repeatedly for 40 seconds. They were given a filler task to divert their concentration. Finally, the researchers asked the participants to recall as many of the listed items as they could in 60 seconds. Those who drew images were consistently better at remembering than the participants who wrote the words.
“Drawing helps create a more cohesive memory trace that better integrates visual, motor and semantic information,” Wammes said.
Wammes’s research concluded that drawing information is remembered more effectively than writing it down. Creating a drawing of a to-be-remembered item is more beneficial relative to writing the information on a piece of paper.
“These functions including, visual, motor and semantic memory all work together to promote better memory retention,” PSUC’s cognitive psychology professor Wendy Braje said.
Braje said this idea is similar to the generation effect. The generation effect is the idea that information is better remembered if it is generated from one’s own mind rather than simply read, according to an article by the Interaction Design Foundation, a 14-year old non-profit community founded in Denmark.
“Writing down something in your own words, as opposed to just reading and writing helps to better remember the information,” Braje said.
The University of Waterloo suggests sketching a picture onto a piece of paper. The quality of the drawing doesn’t matter. Everyone can benefit from drawing memory, regardless of artistic talent.
“Visuals are super helpful, especially if it pertains to what you’re doing,” said senior history adolescent education major Makenzee Bruce. “In class the other day, we were talking about the articles we had read. I drew a little hippie chick saying ‘make love, not plutonium’ because we were talking about an atomic factory making plutonium in a small village in France.”
During class, many students like Bruce tend to doodle along the margins of their notebook. It can even be easier to remember the images in the notebook than the actual lecture.
“That’s why I try to tie it [sketches] into whatever I’m supposed to be learning because then I’ll remember the drawing and connect it, and it all works out,” said Bruce.
Research discussed to the Experimental Journal of Social Psychology demonstrated how the perception of color stimuli can have an important effect on psychological performance. Several studies linked a close connection between the color red to an increase in memory retention and increased overall performance.
Junior hotel, restaurant and tourism major Amanda Cuomo said she outlines her notes in different colors.
“Key points will be in yellow and other important facts will be a different color so when I’m studying specific things I’ll go back to that color,” Cuomo said.
Researchers discuss the effect of color in a New York Times article. The article stated that people should opt for blue ink when needing creativity; grab a red pen when wanting work to be more accurate. The study concludes that the red group performed significantly better when given memory and detail tasks. The blue group did better on creative tasks, such as creating toys from shapes.
“I have a hard time remembering, so that’s why I color coordinate my notebooks and even my agenda,” said Cuomo. “Usually when I’m studying and don’t do my color-coordinating tricks I won’t do as well on an exam as I would if I had went back and put things in color.”
Studies that focus on memory retention attract many people from students and professors in academia to the stay-at-home mom gathering her grocery-shopping list. Unfortunately, it’s not the end all be all for everyone.
While drawing is proven to increase memory retention, dependence on doodling in a notebook or jotting down notes in red or yellow ink is not a recommended studying strategy for every student.
“Do try to create things yourself as much as you can. But, think and engage more deeply,” Braje said.
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