This answer is from the Mad Scienctist
The quick answer is that either type
can be more memorable depending on the
circumstances, but visual information is more
easily remembered overall.
Part of what makes
the answer complex is that what we see often
causes us to think, and that thinking is
remembered as if it were heard; so information
presented visually might actually get stored
twice: once in a visual "code" and once in an
auditory code. There are other factors such as how
motivated we are to remember that also can have a
Here's a more detailed answer,
courtesy of my colleague Dr. Roger Remington:
Our capacity to store visual patterns for
later recognition is remarkable,so if I had to
choose between the two alternatives I would say
the simpleanswer is that visual information is
remembered better. The morecomplicated answer
involves what precisely is meant by "remembered
better"and whether this holds for all conditions.
For lists of words, for example,I don't think
there is much difference between visual and
auditory modes ofpresentation. Even this is
complicated because for auditory stimulus
presentations visual imagery can help memory;
likewise, for visual stimulus presentations
auditory memory can help, so it's not clear we get
a very pure measure of each.
matters whether people are (1) asked to recall
what was presented or (2) simply to recognize a
previously presented item. For recognition, people
have an amazing ability to store complex visual
information and to recognize and discriminate old
from new pictures at retention intervals of days.
However,people can also remember and hum tunes for
years while they are only able to depict small
portions of a scene they have been presented.
Part of the problem in answering this question
is the nature of auditory and visual stimuli.
To oversimpify, a natural visual scene is
interconnected spatially whereas an auditory
stimulus in interconnected serially. This leads to
differences in our ability to reproduce (recall)
the event and in the amount of information needed
to recognize a visual or auditory event among
distracting events. If one chooses to look at the
amount of information stored, then it would be the
case that our visual information would win because
of the rich representation of the world our visual
system gives us.
This reasoning underlies the
value of using spatial mnemonics (memory aids)to
remember speeches and the like.It is important to
keep in mind that in daily life what we remember
is (toa first approximation) what we attend to.
The modality (visual vs auditory)plays a role, but
our motivation plays perhaps a more significant
key role.In fact, the source of information is
often lost with time: we remember that George
Washington was the first president but are
unlikely to be able to recall whether we heard
that (audition) or read it somewhere (vision). Our
memory for facts (semantic memory) can be
separated from our memory for events (episodic
memory). It is in episodic memory that we have the
clearest recollection of whether we heard or read
something. Visual and auditory memories can also
reinforce each other. It is helpful to have both
pictures and spoken words to support memory since
that gives us a richer internal representation. A
very powerful effect that works in both modalities
is organization. If the material to be remembered
is organized into a narrative or other structure
it is remembered much better than if it is a
disorganized hodge-podge.A book called "Human
Memory" by Alan Baddeley is a good reference for
this area though tough going for younger students.
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