Alternate titles: Pictorial superiority effect.

Problem summary

We remember images much better than words


  • Use to boost recall of your message
  • Use to grab the attention of your users
  • Use to form advantageous associations with your product or service

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  • Use images to reinforce your message. Combining words with relevant images when conveying a message will significantly boost the percentage of people remembering the information they read.
  • Use Conceptual Metaphors. Use visual metaphors to effortlessly explain complex concepts or form advantageous associations with your product or service.
  • Not all images are created equal. Memorability of images depend on the user context, but in general we tend to remember human faces and images featuring both and object and a scene rather than just an image of an outdoor landscape. Images should focus on specific objects, but not so focused that the scene or setting disappears.


Pictures are recognized and recalled more quickly and easily than both written and oral language. The best results for learning comes from combining both words and images, as words allow us to explain complex or abstract concepts and images to encode those concepts for more efficient retention and recall. Images help grab attention, enhance comprehension, and help users remember your message.


The well documented Picture Superiority Effect, is based on Allan Paivio’s dual-coding theory, claiming that the formation of mental images aids learning. According to Paivio, there are two ways a person could expand on learned material: verbal associations and visual imagery. Where verbal associations require “dual coding”, images can be more easily and can be retrieved from “symbolic” mode.

1 Hockley, W. E. (2008). The picture superiority effect in associative recognition. Memory & Cognition. 36 (7): 1351–1359

2 Nelson, Reed & Walling (1976). Pictorial superiority effect. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning & Memory, 2, 523-528.

3 Paivio, A. and Csapo, K. (1973). Picture Superiority in Free Recall: Imagery or Dual Coding? Cognitive Psychology, 5, 176-206.

4 Picture Superiority Effect on

5 The Picture Superiority Effect at Learning Loop

User Interface Design Patterns