Worried You’ll Forget Something? Draw It

Techniques/ Tips

Worried You’ll Forget Something? Draw It

In addition to reducing stress, boosting your brainpower and making you smile more, tapping into your creative side—specifically, drawing—can help you remember things more accurately, according to a new study. Known as “the drawing effect,” picking up a pen or pencil and roughly tracing items onto a page also traces them onto your brain as memories that are easier to recall than written words.

The University of Waterloo’s Jeffrey Wammes and his researchers discovered the evidence that drawing is scientifically proven to be a “reliable and robust” method for improving free recall through seven experiments measuring it against written reminders.


Their study, published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology earlier this year, began with a simple exercise: students were given a list of 40 words that could be visualized (“apple,” for instance). Then, in 40 seconds, they were told to memorize the words. Half of the students were instructed to write out the list repeatedly within that timeframe, while the other half were told to draw them. After a distracting “filler task,” they were then randomly asked to recall as many words from the list as possible. Those who sketched the words significantly outperformed those who simply rewrote the words, recalling twice as many list items.


Then, to pin drawing as the ultimate memory encoder over simply picturing visual representations of objects, Wammes tested students’ ability to recall objects after studying pictures of them, imagining images of them, describing their appearance, or writing visual descriptors.

“We pitted drawing against a number of other known encoding strategies, but drawing always came out on top,” Wammes said, noting that the quality of drawings was irrelevant to one’s ability to remember the objects. “We believe that the benefit arises because drawing helps to create a more cohesive memory trace that better integrates visual, motor and semantic information.”

Drawing objects, it turns out, requires our brains to work hardest, therefore solidifying the memory of objects into our memories more reliably than other methods. As the Huffington Post points out, “It involves our ability to visualize an image from a word, calling upon our previous understandings and interactions with that word, and then it uses our motor skills to bring the image to the page.”

Besides, doodling is way more appealing than writing a to-do list, anyway, right?