Vividness and Memory

By Brad Bell

Imagine that you have to teach a course that many students find difficult and dry.  Many students seem to have difficulty recalling many of the concepts in the course.  What can you do to increase their recall of concepts and improve grades on exams?

Presenting information in a vivid manner is one possible technique that might increase recall of information.  Information could be presented in a more vivid manner by making it more concrete, detailed, and colorful.

Some studies suggest that greater vividness in a message increases the ability to recall information in a message (e.g., Collins, Taylor, & Wood, 1988; Shedler & Manis, 1986).  In their first experiment, Shedler and Manis (1986) had participants listen to tape recording involving favorable and unfavorable arguments with respect a mother’s fitness as a parent.  In one condition, all the favorable
arguments had vivid versions, and all the unfavorable arguments had nonvivid versions.  The opposite was true in the other condition.  The participants were asked to recall the arguments 48 hours later.  Their results suggest that greater vividness, on the average, increased the
ability to recall arguments.  In their second study, Collins, Taylor, and Wood (1988) had participants listen to four messages.  Their findings suggest that greater vividness, on the average, increased recall of message content.  However, greater vividness may not always increase recall of information in a message.  Frey and Eagly (1993) did not find that greater vividness increased recall of information.  In fact, in their low attentional constraint condition, a vivid editorial decreased recall, on the average.  They also found that a vivid editorial was perceived to be more distracting and as having a less logical train of thought.   Thus, it may be important that
the vivid information in a message is logical and not
distracting.  (1)

In order to recall a message, ideas, or concepts, it may be good to create detailed and colorful examples that are perceived to be not distracting, and also logically consistent with the message, ideas, or concepts.  This might be a way to increase recall of the message, ideas, or concepts.   More research may be needed to gain a better understanding of the influence of vividness on memory.


1.  See their article for more information about their
study and findings.


Collins, R. L., Taylor, S. E., & Wood, J. V.  (1988). The vividness effect:  Elusive or Illusory?  Journal of Experimental Social Psychology24, 1-18.
Frey, K. P., & Eagly, A. H.  (1993).  Vividness can undermine the persuasiveness of messages.  Journal Personality and Social Psychology65, 32-44.
Shedler, J., Manis, M. (1986).  Can the availability heuristic explain vividness effects?  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology51, 26-36.