Serial Notes are dead: The Pictoral Superiority Effect

Hey everybody!

I’m using this post to get straight into visual learning, because (even though we have a ton of other stuff to show you that pre-empts this) it’s one of the central things I taught people when I was tutoring, and memorizing is one of the biggest challenges I found students face when studying.


So basically here’s what I’ll be telling you about today:

- Visual learning is far superior to any other method of learning

- Our brain has a virtually unlimited storage capacity for images

- Visual recall is faster than any other form of learning

- What does this mean for study?

Then in the next post I will actually show you how to make visual notes if you don’t already know how (It was all too much to fit into one).


So…the big idea of today is that everybody learns and remembers best visually. I know you’ve heard all that stuff like people are auditory/ kinesthetic/visual and so forth, but really, studies show now that EVERYBODY remembers best visually. This is HUGE, especially for people who struggle to memorise pages and pages of words (which is most of us), and people who are dyslexic. The ease at which it can be done will astound you. It definitely astounded me.


The fact is, most of us don’t realize what our brain and memory are capable of. Students often get so overwhelmed by a sheer amount of material they are expected to remember that they don’t even know how or where to begin. This is mainly because they haven’t been taught a structured method of memorizing. When I’ve taught students how to remember visually they cant get over the difference it makes in their ability to remember information. You can literally memorise entire lectures word for word if you really want to.


The ‘Pictorial Superiority Effect’

When I studied psychology back in my first year out of high school, we learnt about a study by Ralph Haber done in the United States which involved showing 2560 images, one after the other, to a large group of people and then testing their recognition after 7 days. The recall rate was measured at NINETY PERCENT. He then did the same study, but this time showed the images with less than one second between them. The recall rate was still 85-95 percent! Then, yet another similar study that used ‘vivid’ or memorable images demonstrated a 99.99% recognition rate!


What does this mean for us? Your brain has a phenomenal ability to recall images! Why?Pictures are far more evocative than words. They stimulate a huge range of cortical skills and trigger a massive number of associations, which results in much more effective recall.

In his book Brain Rules, John Medina explains that text and auditory presentation of information is far less efficient than visual presentation: In testing, only 10% of Oral information is recalled 72 hours after exposure, whereas recall is 65% if a picture is included!


Unlock your unlimited storage capacity: Visual memory is MASSIVE

In comparison to auditory/written learning, your ability to remember images is virtually limitless. The Canadian researcher responsible for the ‘vivid’ image recall experiment mentioned above, demonstrated the brain’s capacity to remember not just 2500 images, but 10,000. It is now estimated that if you were shown over a million images in a similar fashion, the recall rate would be the same!

You can literally memorize entire chapters and lectures word-for-word using visual learning techniques.


Recall of images is much FASTER

When you learn via words/auditory techniques, such as mnemonics and linear notes, your brain must ‘sort’ through it in order before you find the information you need. Imagine a cassette tape that you need to rewind/fast forward through everything to get to the part you want. This is how you sort through these types of memories.

With visual learning you can ‘jump’ straight to part you want because it is set out visually in your memory. It’s like using a menu screen on a DVD rather than a cassette.

Let me show you. Lets say I asked you to tell me the middle letter of the word HIPPOPOTAMUS. If you haven’t learnt it visually you would most likely need to spell it out letter for letter in your head before arriving at the middle letter. Harder still, what if I asked you to spell it backwards? Very tricky to do if you’re trying to sound it out in a serial fashion. Now try this: Visualise the word HIPPOPOTAMUS in your head as an image. Picture the entire word with your eyes closed, making it big and bold. Got it? Now spell it forward, visualizing the whole word. Then spell it backward. It’s a lot easier visually isn’t it? This is because you can see the entire word as an image and your brain doesn’t have to sort through it letter by letter (which is what it does when you memorise in a serial, or linear fashion.) Now I’m not suggesting that we should all re-learn to spell using visual memory, but this is a good demonstration of how sorting through visual memories is much more efficient.


So what have we got from this so far?

Visual memory…

1. Is longer lasting

2. Has a (virtually) unlimited capacity

3. allows for faster recall


What can you do straight away:

Start making your notes for visually stimulating and differentiated. Use Colour, shape, structure it in a brainstorm or flowchart (which is more in line with how your brain functions, but that’s for another post J)

I hope this was helpful, if there is anything you want me to explain more pelase let me know by commenting below!