Psychology of Memory:
Vividness and Memory
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
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
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
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 Psychology, 24, 1-18.
Frey, K. P., & Eagly, A. H. (1993). Vividness can
undermine the persuasiveness of messages. Journal
Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 32-44.
Shedler, J., Manis, M. (1986). Can the availability
heuristic explain vividness effects? Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 26-36.