Picture Superiority Effect definition

Picture Superiority Effect relates to the fact that the human brain learns and retains information much better when it comes in the form of images rather than words and therefore visual sources can have a much greater and more lasting impact than text. This is where the phrase “a picture paints a thousand words” comes from. Allan Paivio (1971) explains this principle with the theory of “dual coding”: that we retain images better than words because they are coded twice in our memory. Paivio explains that our memories take in information using two different codes: “verbal” codes and “image” codes. When we’re presented with an image it generates both a verbal and an image code (taking the visual image and generating a verbal code using an associated word or phrase) whereas when we’re presented with something that is solely verbal it only generates the one verbal code. When our brain then wants to retrieve information, it finds it easier to locate the images because they have been “dual coded”. This is why we find it both easier to memorise and then later remember information that is presented in a visual manner.

Hockey carried out an experiment in 2008 to demonstrate the Picture Superiority Effect. He asked participants to memorise both random pairs of words and random pairs of images. He then rearranged the pairs so that some of them were no longer with their original partners and asked the participants to identify those that had changed and those that hadn’t. The results overwhelmingly showed that people were able to identify the original image pairings much easier than the word pairings.

Picture Superiority Effect can be utilised in many ways: it is certainly an aid for learning environments to help people learn and retain information more easily, but it can also be highly effective when applied in communications, marketing or advertising to help your message be absorbed better and retained for longer.

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