How Drawing Connects the Brain
Researchers have known for some time that writing notes by hand makes information easier to remember than writing it on a digital device. For example, students who write notes on laptops tend to copy what they’re hearing verbatim, but writing by hand forces students to rephrase and consolidate information as they’re writing it down. By interacting with the information, writing notes by hand creates more new connections in the brain, providing more ways back to the information when it’s needed again.
Drawing to improve memory works on the same principle, but adds even more ways to represent the information. As a result, this activates different parts of the brain that would be idle when only writing. In a 2018 study, researchers from the University of Waterloo found that when people represent information in drawings, it doesn’t seem to matter if the drawing is good. Instead, what matters is processing information into a visual form. Researcher Melissa Meade says in a press statement that, “We think that drawing is particularly relevant for people with dementia because it makes better use of brain regions that are still preserved, and could help people experiencing cognitive impairment with memory function.”
Drawing Builds on Classic Memory Techniques
Drawing is just one way to improve memory by connecting information to other information or images. Many people use mnemonic devices, such as rhymes, to store information in multiple layers, and before the printing press made information in books widely available, people trained their memories far beyond what most modern people can do.
In fact, as mass printing became possible, the teachers of centuries ago lamented that students no longer retained information as they once did. In the ancient world of Greece and Rome, people used the “method of loci” for memorization. They visualized a place they knew well, such as a childhood home, and they then placed information into this visual memory for easy retrieval by visualizing that place again.
Drawing is just one of many ways to improve memory, and according to researchers it’s one of the best, especially for people starting to feel the effects of age. Take advantage of the brain’s natural connections to store information in multiple places, making it easier to find when it’s needed again.
Check out our podcast Hello Creatives! on this topic: “How Drawing Fights Aging Memories & Dementia. ” You can find Hello Creatives! on iTunes, iHeart Radio, Google Play, Stitcher, SoundCloud & Spotify.
Another previous study from the same researchers notes that, “people have a massive capacity for remembering the detail in images,” and that drawing causes four main effects: elaboration on the information, processing of visual imagery, motor action, and the creation of a picture memory. This means that drawing brings together several brain processes at once, helping store that information in multiple places. For example, if someone needs to remember the date of a doctor’s appointment and they write down the information, there won’t be much way for their brain to retrieve that information if they lose the note. But if they added a little doodle of a doctor on the note, the mind can connect the date to their picture memory of the doodle, giving another pathway back to the information again.