A more recent paper by Wammes, currently in review, attempts to determine which of these three components—semantic, visual, or motor—contributes the most to drawing’s memory-boosting properties. His findings indicate that the visual element is the least powerful recall tool; motor and semantic are far more significant when it comes to establishing a lasting memory.
The idea for these experiments, Wammes explained, took root during his undergraduate years. A friend of his had begun to take notes that incorporated drawings rather than the traditional lines of text, “and, at least for him, it turned his educational career around a little bit. It helped him learn a lot better than any other sort of method of note-taking.”
This strategy—sometimes dubbed “sketchnoting”—is one that’s also preached by Oakland-based “doodle consultant” Sunni Brown as a way to increase retention during lectures or meetings. “The auditory channel and the written channel are sort of competing, like if you’re trying to write a paper while the radio’s on,” she explained. “That’s why traditional note-taking is really ridiculous, because it’s anathema for what the brain needs to thrive.”
Brown’s creative consultancy, Sunni Brown Ink, has coached companies such as Dell and Zappos in “applied visual thinking”—that is, the power of doodling to unlock creativity and boost memory. Sometimes, as with note-taking, these drawings relate directly to the information you’re trying to retain. But even unconscious doodling can enhance memory. By “mindlessly” doodling, “you’re helping your brain to stay present in the meeting,” Brown noted. “That’s one of its superpowers that people have been using for millennia.”