Monday, 8 June 2009

Bower (1972) - images in memory

The use of images to enhance memory
As part of his research into memory techniques, Bower studied the effect of creating a visual image to aid verbal recall. In one experiment, participants were given 100 different cards, one at a time; each card had two unrelated words, for example ‘dog’ and ‘bicycle’. Participants either had to memorize the pair, or they were asked to create a visual scene linking the two items.

Participants were asked to make visual links
between two images.  Photo by flxmx

When given a cued recall test (i.e. given the first of each pair of words), the ‘imagers’ recalled 80% of target words, compared to non-imagers’ 45%. Images that lead to the most effective recall are often dynamic, or unusual – for example it would be better to visualise a cat building a brick wall, rather than a cat sitting on a brick.

This study provides useful experimental support for a memory strategy. It has obvious practical applications, as visual associations can be used for real-life tasks such as exam revision. However, the research is rather artificial, and people do not usually have to memorise lists of common nouns - it is hard to see how the same technique can be applied to the learning of abstract concepts, or scientific terminology.


Bower, G.H. (1972). Mental imagery and associative learning. In L. Gregg (Ed.), Cognition in Learning and Memory, 51-88.

See also: The bizarreness effect in memory (Pra Baldi et al., 1985)


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