Visual Memory: What It is, and How to Leverage It

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clas025313: 1950s Woman trying to remember what her memory cue was for. credit: ClassicStock / TopFoto 

Did you know, within an hour, the average person will have forgotten 50% of the information presented to them? Within 24 hours, they will have forgotten 70%.

Your brain is being inundated by thousands of sensory inputs. Yet, your brain is also ignoring them because it feels like it must dispose of information that doesn’t feel relevant.

If the human brain is so powerful, why do we struggle to retain information? And how do we go about making this better?

We’re going to give you the full scoop on what visual memory is and how it impacts our ability to learn and remember. Keep reading till the end to find out how marketers are using visual media to keep you engaged!

What Is Visual Memory?

When you hear the term ‘visual memory’, we’re sure you think of how something looks and how you recall something.

That’s only a tiny part of the concept, though, as visual memory is surprisingly complex. It ranges from concrete ideas to the wildly abstract. But despite how confusing this can be, it is essential to navigating the world around us.

Visual memory goes beyond the ability to recall what you see. Visual memory is, at its core, a kind of memory formed by information in your mind, which enters through some kind of visual system.

A few examples of a healthy visual memory may include copying notes from a screen or book, remembering small, incidental things like where you put your phone, and even spelling.

That doesn’t seem overly complicated, does it?

How about this? Think about how, in choreography, for example, people sometimes close their eyes to help them remember the moves and steps. They may be picturing themselves or someone else doing the steps.

Let’s go one step further and note that if we’re watching a movie, which is inherently visual, but there was no sound, would we remember it? Would it have the same impact?

When we recall said movie and want to tell our friends about it, we can only do this through the combination of those sensory inputs.

That’s how memory works as a whole, but particularly visual memory, which relies pretty heavily on other senses to be potent.

Backed up by Science

In various studies over time, scientists have discovered that sensory memories are relatively fleeting in nature. However, if the information is given in a way that combines both auditory and visual language, there is a higher chance of it being retained.

There have also been studies that show that visual information has a much higher chance of being stored in long-term memory than anything auditory. A neurological study by Munroe-Lopez and her team found that visual memory takes a direct path to storage, while auditory memory makes various pit stops along the synapses.

If we’re considering which form is best, well, that’s a bit more challenging. In the long term, visual memory far outpaces any other kind, but there is something to be said for the recollection of certain smells and sounds. When used in tandem, the human brain has a much higher chance of remembering something.

And, the more emotion we attach to a situation, the likelier it is to be remembered.

Defining a Visual Learning Style

A visual learning style, at its core, is a style of learning that is associated with images, but we’d argue that it goes beyond that.

There are four primary learning styles, and unsurprisingly, they all rely on a sense to be effective.

And, aside from pure auditory learning, none of them are possible without some kind of visual interference. Let’s have a quick look at what they are:

  1. Visual
  2. Auditory
  3. Reading and writing
  4. Kinesthetic

We used an example of a dancer above, and while they use their bodies to express movement, there is still a sense of recall required. Typically, they will have seen someone else performing or watched a teacher show them the steps.

In much the same way, whether we are reading or writing, we are committing something to memory visually. This happens either through a process of transcription or through a process of memorization.

How to Spot a Visual Learner

We refer to people with a visual learning style as visual-spatial learners and they have specific characteristics that make their learning styles unique. In a school setting, a visual learner may:

  • Ask a lot of questions
  • Take notes during class
  • Prefer reading a story rather than listening
  • Use diagrams and charts
  • Use colour to organize information
  • Take longer understanding verbal instruction

Additionally, in life and practical application, people with a visual-spatial style of learning may:

  • Remember faces but not names
  • Notice subtle changes in people and places
  • Be good with navigation
  • Be tidy and organized
  • Scribble and doodle when bored

These are just a few of the general telltale signs that someone is likely a visual learner, but we must also be wary of putting people into boxes. Some people say that visual learners are often shy, but this is far too generalized for us.

Now, let’s say you are a visual learner but want to improve. How do you go about that?

Improving Your Memory Through Visual Learning

Even though visualization may come easy to visual learners, information may often get lost in their minds. Because they spend so much time looking at things, they may become overwhelmed with visual stimuli and need to find ways of making material and content stand out more.

There are a few ways to do this if you are already a visual learner looking for more stability.

You can use colour in your notes, make mind maps, make use of graphic organizers, and even outline information in the textbook itself. You want to physically take action in changing the information in front of you.

By interacting with and changing this information, you’re far more likely to remember it because you’ve engaged with it.

Let’s say you’re not necessarily a visual learner, but want to learn more! The good news is, improving your visual learning strategies has the significant benefit of improving your memory.

Five Easy Ways to Improve Your Visual Memory

Let’s look at some techniques you can use to improve your memory, particularly visually. This is also referred to as Iconic memory, and we want to build this to a point where we can memorize more information in shorter periods of time.

Describe Objects Without Naming Them

Could you tell someone what colour an orange was without actually using the word orange?

Flex your imagination and your visual language! It’s also a great visual memory exercise and much harder than you think!

Try to describe some of these without referring to them by name:

  • Paintbrush
  • Car
  • Photograph

Whether or not this is challenging will depend on the object and how flexible you are in your approach to language.

Recall an Entire Day

You can do this in bed at night, especially as a way of recapping how your day went. Mentally, go through every single thing that happened that day. The goal is to try to recall as much as you can.

Make sure you are seeing what’s happening in your mind from the moment you woke up and sustain that recall for as long as you can. It is going to be challenging, and you don’t need to do it every night. Aim for once a week at first and build into it.

Visual Meditation

There are lots of ways to meditate. Visualization is particularly useful here. The idea is to imagine a scenario or environment in your mind and plunge yourself into that environment to still the mind.

You can start simple with this and perhaps begin with imagining a simple candle in your mind. The goal is to go through each step in your head and visualize it as if it were happening in front of you.

The benefit of this is that it strengthens your ability to construct information visually from nothing but a seed.

Study Patterns and Resemblances

The world is full of them. Patterns in branding, patterns in nature, and even in the way an owner resembles their pet. Think about the last time you were cloud gazing.

Were you trying to pick out shapes in the clouds? Make them come together in your mind to form an image or an animal? That’s a process of resemblance matching, where your brain is trying to search for information and make it make sense.

Try to draw on this more systematically and it will help your ability to solve visual puzzles.

Draw From a Book

Finally, a brilliant way of flexing your visual muscles is to draw something imaginary. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination but think about your favourite character from a book.

The author will have described them, but the way they described the character and the way you visualized them may be completely different. Loosely sketch out how they look in your mind.

This will further strengthen your ability to recall information through the use of visual language.

How Visual Information Is Used in Marketing

Before we dive too deep into how marketers use visual information, we should discuss a few fundamentals. Namely, what do marketers need to know when it comes to the human mind?

The human brain likes simple choices. Too much information and too many options will be overwhelming. More often than not, this will lead to a customer procrastinating about making a decision.

The brain also likes shortcuts. While it’s capable of some incredible things, the human brain is also very lazy. It relies on these shortcuts for information. So, leveraging things like testimonials will work better than explaining to them why you’re the right choice.

Did you know, over half of the brain is designed to process visual information? Visual processing is also quick, and people will form an impression of something in the first 1/20th of a second after seeing it.

Finally, the brain is hard-wired to pay attention to motion. This kept us alive when we were still traipsing through lands riddled with animals who wanted to eat us. Even in a modern sense, we haven’t lost this.

The Most Common Visual Marketing Trends

Compared to older, or more traditional, marketing methods, visual marketing sees its success in user engagement. The primary goal of marketing is to attract an audience, and the bigger the audience, the better.

Below are some of the most common ways marketers are drawing in bigger audiences.

Videos and Moving Content

Remember, we don’t want to get eaten by a lion! Our brain is telling us to pay attention to moving information, and this is where the use of videos, live streams and even GIFS and animation come in handy for the savvy marketer or publisher.

Videos also give the customer a platform to better understand a product and its features.

Ephemeral Content

First, what is ephemeral content? Mainly, it’s content that only exists for a finite amount of time. Think stories on Instagram. The benefit of this ephemerality is that it instils a sense of eagerness in the customer, who wants to engage with it before it disappears.

Infographics and Illustration

Infographics decode information for the customer in a way that is quick and easy to understand. You are literally guiding them into the information you want them to know. It doesn’t get much better than that. The more striking an infographic, the more engaged your audience will be.

In the same vein, using sketches and illustrations in your work helps give your brand a sense of authenticity. Although it may feel counter-intuitive, simple sketches can give you a significant edge. Just remember that whether you’re using art or photos, you must pay attention to the rules of copyright.

Keeping Visual Attention

We’ve already spoken about how visual learning styles are better served in combination with other senses. Marketing is not an exception to this.

However, because we live in an age where everything is visual, we need to find ways to capture a person’s attention. That’s where emotion comes in, and the right use of emotion in an advert or media campaign will build trust and customer belief.

A touching visual aspect to your work makes people pay attention, which means they remember.

In line with this, a common marketing desire is the need to ‘go viral’. When content becomes viral, it is liked, shared, and distributed in a widespread way. This is great for you as a marketer or designer, as that means more people are paying attention.

Visual media has the power to translate a brand’s identity quickly and easily, and because the human mind is more inclined towards visuals, even selling educational books with images and a compelling cover will draw more people in than something simple.

We want people to engage with our work, with the things that drive us. We want them to consume the information we’re supplying, and the best way to hold that attention is to help them remember.

More Than a Thousand Words

This entire article is based around memory, and our aim was to impart the particular importance of visual memory, whether we’re trying to grow our own, or attempting to kickstart that memory in our audience.

As a company, our goal is to provide top-notch imagery that is backed by exceptional customer service and incredible value for money. We want to help you create a compelling visual story for your brand.

Get in touch with us today to find out how we can do exactly that.


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