Education, Mental Health

Shockingly, drawing is better for Memory than writing

1,2,3 … draw!

words by: Natasha Marsh
Apr 21, 2022

According to the University of Waterloo, adults who start drawing can increase their memory. “Older adults who take up drawing could enhance their memory,” says the new study. Researchers from the University of Waterloo found that even if people weren’t good at it, “drawing, as a method to help retain new information, was better than re-writing notes, visualization exercises or passively looking at images.” Other than alternate study techniques, like writing or memorizing, the study “found that drawing enhanced memory in older adults more.”


More than that, as people get older, they are more susceptible to diseases like dementia. The study’s findings concluded that drawing could potentially help, and that those who have huge memory and language loss would benefit from drawing. This is because the parts of the brain not affected by dementia benefit from drawing, and can be therapeutic for dementia patients who are struggling with the disease.


What was studied

The study was a series, where the researchers asked adult participants to perform memory techniques on information, like words “truck” or “pear,” and tested them on it. In the tests, participants would either write the words, list physical attributes, or draw what the word meant. After each method, their memory was studied to see which method was best at retention.


When it came down to it, drawing won out because it exercised variations of producing the information given, like semantic, motoric, spatial, and visual. Additionally, since drawing is so simple, it can be used in different settings as well. 20% of participants remembered words they wrote, but 45% remembered terms they drew.


As stated earlier, memory can worsen as people get older. Simply put, this is because peoples’ brains start to break down—especially the parts that are linked to memory, like the hippocampus and frontal lobes. The reason drawing works so well in retaining memory is because the part of the brain that processes things in images and pictures remain mostly intact when aging.


Why this works

When information is drawn, it’s saved in the brain differently than when it’s written. For example, if you draw a concept, you have to come up with its meaning in a way that makes sense to you. You have to draw what, to you, represents the information being given. Then, you have to inspect what’s going on in the drawing for you to understand.


When you were in school, you probably drew images as you took notes to remember the information, so this isn’t a new finding, but now it’s scientifically proven. It probably helped you because drawing is an active way to absorb information, rather than passively writing. In other words, when you’re writing notes, it’s easy to get bored or distracted. But when you’re drawing, your brain forces you to break down and process information is a way that’s comfortable to you. I specifically remember a history course where drawing helped me visualize—thus, understand.


Memories are built upon other memories. So, it’s no surprise that when you write down new information, you’re most likely to forget it. However, when you draw, you’re able to “encode the memory in a very rich way, layering together the visual memory of the image, the kinesthetic memory of our hand drawing the image, and the semantic memory that is invoked when we engage in meaning-making. In combination, this greatly increases the likelihood that the concept being drawn will later be recalled.”


Pretty interesting stuff, huh? Maybe the doodles you made in the margins were helpful after all. It could help reverse the effects of what happens when screen time negatively effects our brains. Also, it’s never too late to age-proof your brain.