Pictures are remembered better than words.1

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and it turns out that in most cases, this is true. Pictures are generally more easily recognized and recalled than words, although memory for pictures and words together is superior to memory for words alone or pictures alone. For example, instructional materials and technical manuals that present textual information accompanied by supporting pictures enable information recall that is better than that produced by either the text or pictures alone. The picture superiority effect is commonly used in instructional design, advertising, technical writing, and other design contexts requiring easy and accurate recall of information.2

When information recall is measured immediately after the presentation of a series of pictures or words, recall performance for pictures and words is equal. The picture superiority effect applies only when people are asked to recall something after more than thirty seconds from the time of exposure. The picture superiority effect is strongest when the pictures represent common, concrete things versus abstract things, such as a picture of a flag versus a picture depicting the concept of freedom, and when pictures are distinct from one another, such as a mix of objects versus objects of a single type.

The picture superiority effect advantage increases further when people are casually exposed to information and the exposure time is limited. For example, an advertisement for a clock repair shop that includes a picture of a clock will be better recalled than the same advertisement without the picture. People not interested in clock repair who see the advertisement with the picture will also be better able to recall the brand if the need for clock repair service arises at a later time. The strength of the picture superiority effect diminishes as the information becomes more complex. For example, people are able to recall events from a story presented as a silent movie as well as events from the same story read as text.3

Use the picture superiority effect to improve the recognition and recall of key information. Use pictures and words together, and ensure that they reinforce the same information for optimal effect. Pictures and words that conflict create interference and dramatically inhibit recall. Consider the inclusion of meaningful pictures in advertising campaigns when possible, especially when the goal is to build company and product brand awareness.

See also Advance Organizer, Iconic Representation, Serial Position Effects, and von Restorff Effect.

Advertisements with text and pictures are more likely to be looked at and recalled than advertisements with text only. This superiority of pictures over text is even stronger when the page is quickly scanned rather than read.

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