The drawing effect: Evidence for reliable and robust memory benefits in free recall

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2016;69(9):1752-76. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2015.1094494. Epub 2016 Feb 16.


In 7 free-recall experiments, the benefit of creating drawings of to-be-remembered information relative to writing was examined as a mnemonic strategy. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants were presented with a list of words and were asked to either draw or write out each. Drawn words were better recalled than written. Experiments 3-5 showed that the memory boost provided by drawing could not be explained by elaborative encoding (deep level of processing, LoP), visual imagery, or picture superiority, respectively. In Experiment 6, we explored potential limitations of the drawing effect, by reducing encoding time and increasing list length. Drawing, relative to writing, still benefited memory despite these constraints. In Experiment 7, the drawing effect was significant even when encoding trial types were compared in pure lists between participants, inconsistent with a distinctiveness account. Together these experiments indicate that drawing enhances memory relative to writing, across settings, instructions, and alternate encoding strategies, both within- and between-participants, and that a deep LoP, visual imagery, or picture superiority, alone or collectively, are not sufficient to explain the observed effect. We propose that drawing improves memory by encouraging a seamless integration of semantic, visual, and motor aspects of a memory trace.

Keywords: Drawing; Imagery; Levels of processing; Memory; Subject-performed tasks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Concept Formation / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Verbal Learning / physiology*
  • Vocabulary
  • Young Adult