Pictures and Images in Flashcards – Are They Even Useful?

 

Have you noticed a trend that has been going on for quite many years now? Almost every app out there seems to be using pictures. It’s been touted as a magical cure for your inability to learn.

But is it really the case or maybe it’s another thinly veiled attempt to talk you into buying a premium version of some crappy app?

Unfortunately, it seems to be the latter. Yes, learning with pictures has its benefits, but they are relatively tiny compared to the effort and other potential strategies you might use.

Let’s investigate step by step why it’s so!

 

Potential benefits of learning with pictures

 

One picture is worth 1000 words, as the saying goes, and I am pretty sure that every child who ever wandered into their parent’s bedroom in the middle of the night can attest to this. But what’s important to you, as a learner, is how many benefits can learning with pictures offer you. After all, you wouldn’t want to waste too much time adding them to your flashcards if they are useless.

 

The Picture Superiority Effect (i.e. you remember pictures better)

 

Pictures and images in your flashcards - are they even useful?

Photo by pine watt on Unsplash

If we want to discuss advantages of using pictures, we much touch upon the picture superiority effect. This is a go-to argument of many proponents of this approach to learning.

The picture superiority effect refers to the phenomenon in which pictures and images are more likely to be remembered than words.

It’s not anything debatable- the effect has been reproduced in a variety of experiments using different methodologies. However, the thing that many experts seem to miss is the following excerpt:

pictures and images are more likely to be remembered than words.

It just means we are great at recognizing pictures and images. It has its advantages but it’s not should be confused with being able to effortlessly memorize vocabulary.

Let’s quickly go through some studies to show you how amazingly well we can recognize pictures.

 

Power of recognition memory (i.e. you’re good at recognizing pictures)

 

In one of the most widely-cited studies on recognition memory. Standing showed participants an epic 10,000 photographs over the course of 5 days, with 5 seconds’ exposure per image. He then tested their familiarity, essentially as described above.

The participants showed an 83% success rate, suggesting that they had become familiar with about 6,600 images during their ordeal. Other volunteers, trained on a smaller collection of 1,000 images selected for vividness, had a 94% success rate.

But even greater feats have been reported in earlier times. Peter of Ravenna and Francesco Panigarola, Italian memory teachers from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, respectively, were each said to have retained over 100,000 images for use in recalling enormous amounts of information. – Robert Madigan – How Memory Works and How To Make it Work For You

Now that we have established that we’re pretty good at recognizing images, let’s try to see if pairing words with pictures offers more benefits.

 

Boosting your recall

 

Another amazing benefit of using pictures as a part of your learning strategy is improving your recall. This process occurs in the following way:

During memory recall, neurons in the hippocampus began to fire strongly. This was also the case during a control condition in which participants only had to remember scene images without the objects. Importantly, however, hippocampal ativity lasted much longer when participants also had to remember the associated object (the raspberry or scorpion image). Additionally, neurons in the entorhinal cortex began to fire in parallel to the hippocampus.

The pattern of activation in the entorhinal cortex during successful recall strongly resembled the pattern of activation during the initial learning of the objects,” explains Dr. Bernhard Staresina from the University of Birmingham.” – The brain’s auto-complete function, New insights into associative memory

It’s worth pointing out that even the evidence for improved recall is limited and usually concerns abstract words and idiomatic expressions.

Farley et al. (2012) examined if the meaning recall of words improved in the presence of imagery, and found that only the meaning recall of abstract words improved, while that of concrete nouns did not. A possible interpretation of this finding is that, in the case of concrete nouns, most learners can naturally produce visual images in their mind and use them to remember the words.

Therefore, the Vocabulary Learning and Instruction, 6 (1), 21–31. 26 Ishii:

The Impact of Semantic Clustering additional visual images in the learning material do not affect the learning outcome, since they are already present in their mind. However, in the case of abstract nouns, since it is often difficult for learners to create images independently, the presentation of imagery helps them retain the meaning of the words they are trying to learn.

Jennifer Aniston neurons

 

Jennifer Aniston neurons
It seems that this improved recall is caused by creating immediate associations between words and pictures when they are presented together.

The scientists showed patients images of a person in a context e.g. Jennifer Aniston at the Eiffel Tower, Clint Eastwood in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Halle Berry at the Sidney Opera House or Tiger Woods at the White House. They found that the neuron that formerly fired for a single image e.g. Jennifer Aniston or Halle Berry, now also fired for the associated image too i.e. the Eiffel Tower or Sidney Opera House.

The remarkable result was that the neurons changed their firing properties at the exact moment the subjects formed the new memories – the neuron initially firing to Jennifer Aniston started firing to the Eiffel Tower at the time the subject started remembering this association,” said Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, head of the Centre for Systems Neuroscience at the University of Leicester.” – Researchers Make a “Spectacular Discovery” About Memory Formation and Learning 

To sum it up, we know that:
  • we’re great at remembering pictures
  • we’re great at recognizing pictures
  • we’re great at recalling pictures 

 

Let me make it clear – these benefits are undeniable, and they have their use in the learning process. However, the real question is – how effective are pictures at helping you memorize and recall vocabulary!

 

How effective are pictures at helping you memorize and recall vocabulary

 

Before I move on to the science, let’s start with my personal experiments. Contrary to a lot of “language experts” online, I rarely believe anything I read unless I see lots of quality scientific support for some specific claims. And believe me, it’s not easy. Most of scientific studies are flawed on so many different levels that they shouldn’t be written at all.

Once I have gathered enough evidence, I start running long-term statistical experiments in order to see what benefits a given approach brings to the table.

Read more about experimenting: Fail Fast and Fail Epicly – The Best Way Of Learning Languages

What’s the answer in that case? Not that much. Most of the time you will be able to just remember a picture very well. Possibly, if the picture represents accurately a meaning of a given word, you might find it easier to recall the said meaning. Based on my experiments I can say that the overall benefit of using pictures in learning is not big and amounts to less than 5-10%.

 

Effect of pairing words and pictures on memory

 

Boers, Lindstromberg, Littlemore, Stengers, and Eyckmans (2008) and Boers, Piquer Píriz, Stengers, and Eyckmans (2009) investigated the effect of pictorial elucidation when learning new idiomatic expressions.

The studies revealed that learners retain the meanings of newly learned idiomatic items better when they are presented with visual images. Though there was no impact for the word forms, such presentations at least improved the learning of word meanings.

In other words, using pictures can improve your understanding of what a word, or an idiom, means.

One of the problems I have with most memory-related studies is that scientists blatantly ignore the fact that familiarity with words might heavily skew the final results. For that reason, I really love the following paper from 2017.

Participants (36 English-speaking adults) learned 27 pseudowords, which were paired with 27 unfamiliar pictures. They were given cued recall practice for 9 of the words, reproduction practice for another set of 9 words, and the remaining 9 words were restudied. Participants were tested on their recognition (3-alternative forced choice) and recall (saying the pseudoword in response to a picture) of these items immediately after training, and a week after training. Our hypotheses were that reproduction and restudy practice would lead to better learning immediately after training, but that cued recall practice would lead to better retention in the long term.

In all three conditions, recognition performance was extremely high immediately after training, and a week following training, indicating that participants had acquired associations between the novel pictures and novel words. In addition, recognition and cued recall performance was better immediately after training relative to a week later, confirming that participants forgot some words over time. However, results in the cued recall task did not support our hypotheses. Immediately after training, participants showed an advantage for cued Recall over the Restudy condition, but not over the Reproduce condition. Furthermore, there was no boost for the cued Recall condition over time relative to the other two conditions. Results from a Bayesian analysis also supported this null finding. Nonetheless, we found a clear effect of word length, with shorter words being better learned than longer words, indicating that our method was sufficiently sensitive to detect an impact of condition on learning. – The effect of recall, reproduction, and restudy on word learning: a pre-registered study

As you can see, conclusions are not that optimistic and almost fully coincide with my own experiments. That’s why I would suggest you don’t add pictures to every flashcard. It’s too time-consuming compared to benefits. However, if you really enjoy learning this way, I will suggest to you in a second a better way to utilize pictures.

 

Test it for yourself!

 

I know that the above could be a bit of a buzz-kill for any die-hard fan of all those flashy flashcard apps and what not. But the thing is, you should never just trust someone’s opinion without verifying it. 

Run your own experiment. See how well you retain those pictures and if it really makes a difference result-wise compared to the invested time. Our time on this pancake earth is limited. No need to waste any of it using ineffective learning methods.

It doesn’t take much time and it will be worth more than anyone’s opinion. If you decide to go for it, make sure to run it for at least 2-3 months to truly verify of pictures offer a long-term memory boost.

How to use picture more effectively in your learning

 

Since my initial results with this method weren’t very satisfying I decided to step it up and tried to check how different kind of pictures affect my recall. What’s more, I also verified how using the same picture in many flashcards affects my learning.

What kind of pictures did I use?

I concentrated on pictures which are emotionally salient. I tried everything starting from gore pictures to porn pictures. The results, especially with the latter, weren’t very good. I was sitting there like a horny idiot and couldn’t concentrate even one bit on any of the words. It’s like having a sexy teacher in high school. You can’t wait till you get to your classes but once you do, you don’t hear any words.

Funny enough, I remember most of the pictures, but now words, from this experiment to this day which only further proves to me that your typical approach won’t work here.

So what kind of pictures did work?

Pictures from my personal collection. I found out that if I use one picture in a lot of flashcards where every flashcard concentrates on one word, I am able to recall words extremely easily. In addition, my retention rate has also been improved, although not as significantly as my ability to retrieve words.

 

The main takeaway (i.e. what I learned):

 

If you want to use pictures in your language studies, don’t waste time trying to find a new picture for every word. Choose one picture and use it multiple times in different flashcards. Each time try to memorize a different word.

What’s more, if it’s only possible, try to stick to pics from your personal collection – a weekend at your grandma’s, uncle Jim getting sloshed at your wedding. You know, good stuff!

 

Summary

 

Pictures are a definitely a nice addition to your learning toolkit. However, in order to be able to use them effectively you need to understand that they won’t help you much with memorizing words. The best thing they can offer is a slight boost in remembering words and significantly improved recall for pictures. That’s why don’t waste your time trying to paste a picture into every flashcard. Benefits will be minuscule compared to your effort.

If you really want to get the biggest bang for your buck learning-wise, try to use one picture to memorize many words. That’s a great way of mimicking the way we originally started acquiring vocabulary. And it’s not very time-consuming.

Once you try this method, let me know how it worked for you!

What are your thoughts on using pictures in flashcards? Let me know in the comments!

 

How To Have More Time And Energy To Do The Things You Care About

How To Have More Time And Energy To Do The Things You Care About

 

What would you do if you had more energy? What could you learn? Who would you help?

How often do you feel that you should do something but somehow never manage to do it? Of course, you WOULD and COULD BUT you feel tired or are not in the mood or … (insert some random excuse).

If I got a penny for every time my clients tell me “Nope, I didn’t really learn because ya know how it is”, I could buy a solid aluminum bat to whoop all those lame excuses out of them.

Where does your energy go?

 

There might be a lot of reasons why it is so. But have you ever considered that you are wasting away all your energy?

Concentrated energy is powerful beyond measure. It can be like a powerful laser beam of creativity and knowledge. Wherever you direct it, it spreads well-being and shoots up people’s IQ. But the problem is that usually, it’s not like a laser beam. It’s get diluted into hundreds of tiny rays which can’t do sh*t.

So where does your energy go? Why are you squandering it when you could do so much good in this world?

I’ve prepared a list of energy devourers. Stuff which might be as well called parasitic creatures feeding on every good fiber in your body and processing it into the grey lazy goo holding you captive in your armchair.

I’ve been guilty of all of them and I’m still trying to purge some of them from my life. And so can you. You owe it not only to yourself but to everyone who you’ve come to contact with.

1) News

 

I still remember when I read a 4h Work Week of Tim Ferris for the first time. It was like a door to the new world. The world of endless possibilities. But there was once concept which stood out. The concept of “information diet”.

Tim argued that you don’t need to read newspapers every day. Nor do you have to visit the news websites in order to be up-to-date. It was beyond me. “Does he not understand that I’m an educated person and I need to know STUFF?!”.

At that point in time, I was devouring every newspaper and weekly news magazine I could lay my hands on. Not only did I have to read them every day but I also had to read them cover to cover. No news was small enough.

If you find even a tiny bit of yourself in this description I beg you – stop! Stop doing it. You’ll never be up-to-date. You will never be able to keep up. But that’s not even the point. The point is that you don’t need it.

Will you become a better person by reading that the bomb exploded in Somalia killing 20 innocent children? Or that some psycho ran over a child and left him for dead? Or maybe you enjoy reading about the latest corruption scandals in your government? I hope not. I really do.

Because that’s the nature of news – they are supposed to be scary and negative. They are supposed to prey on our lowest emotions and instincts. We keep on coming back because we want to know about all the dangers which lurk in the dark. As if it was supposed to help you.

2) Social Media

 

Have More Time And Energy To Do The Things You Care About

 

Have you heard about the FOMO syndrome? It’s one of my favorites ailments of our modern times – the Fear Of Missing Out.

This terrifying voice in the back of your head which keeps on telling you that if you don’t check your Twitter or Facebook account RIGHT, FU**ING NOW you might miss some important piece of info. Or some funny quote. Or a picture of your friend doing something crazy things.

There are just two solutions which might help you

A) Delete your account.

You still have your mobile and e-mail box. Do it and save months or years of your life. I’m sure you wouldn’t like to see the following sum-up of your life in your final days

“Jim, what a loser he was, spent 6053 hours of his life on Facebook, 5300 hours on Twitter and 2000 browsing pictures of cats”

B) Start blocking it with software

It’s no shame to admit that you have no control over the use of social media. But if it’s true, and you don’t want to delete your accounts, try blocking them with this software:

Leechblock – for Mozilla
StayFocusd – for Chrome

There is also a third group, rare as legless unicorns – people who can actually use social media with moderation. But I don’t trust anyone who says so by default. Almost NOBODY has such a strong will.

3) TV

 

I can’t entertain you with any personal story here. I don’t own TV and haven’t watched it since 2003.

I’m pretty sure that there is no purpose of having one. Why would you have to go through the trouble of watching hours of some worthless junk in order to see something interesting? You can find everything on the internet anyway,

4) Gossiping

 

Have More Time And Energy To Do The Things You Care About

 

“Kim Kardashian has a huge cyst on her right buttock who does a great impersonation of Gary Oldman” (disclaimer – I made it up). That’s worth reading. Maybe a little less than “allegedly lured by tacos, a man shot in buttocks by pellet gun”.

But seriously – how can anyone care enough to read this garbage?

It’s even worse when you realize that most of your conversations are made of bad-mouthing your boss or friends. If the gossip is the last thing standing between you and the awkward conversational silence, what does it say about the quality of these conversations?

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

5) Having an opinion (when it doesn’t matter)

 

You know the type. People who always have to have the last word. You begin a polite conversation and just a moment later their faces wear this demonic expression of madness. They start splattering saliva all around the table as their eyeballs turn white.

How can you not agree with them?!
How dare you?
Don’t you know that X is better than Y?!
And how could you vote for W instead of Z?

My take? I take my part in the discussion or give advice when asked but at the first sign of any emotional uproar I back off. I don’t care enough to lose 30 minutes of my life and a big part of my emotional reserves trying to convince somebody. I have better things to do with my time.

6) Caring too much about what other people say and do

 

Have More Time And Energy To Do The Things You Care About

 

I don’t believe that you can force somebody into any kind of change. You can only let them know that you’re there if they need you. I’m trying to help anyone I can, both online and offline, but I’m not going to waste my time to shove my advice down their throat and convince them that it works.

7) Stop being jealous and comparing yourself

 

It’s still a bit of the problem for me. But in the past, it was much worse. “Why can’t I be taller or have more money?”. “Why everybody seems to know what they’re doing with their lives?”

It all started fading away when I began to work my ass off. You won’t have time to compare yourself to others when you concentrate on being better each day.

8) Learn how not to worry about the things you don’t have any influence on

 

Because why bother if you can’t change? I know quite a handful of people who live their lives through problems of other people. They worry that a friend of some distant friend is sick. Or that somebody they don’t even know had a car accident.

It’s sad. It really is. But that doesn’t mean that any part of your day should revolve around such events. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care. Or that you’re a cold-hearted bastard. You simply save your energy for the things you can change.

9) Curb your internet time

Have More Time And Energy To Do The Things You Care About

 

It’s fascinating. You have the biggest source of information in the universe at your disposal. Yet, most of the time you use it for some mindless entertainment.

I don’t know many people, myself included, who show any restraint when it comes to the use of the internet. I’ve tried a lot of strategies to somehow regain control over the way I use the internet. To no avail.

And that’s ok. I was too weak to do it and I accept it. I learned not to trust myself when it comes to this matter. These days I simply turn off the computer when I want to get more productive or simply block every single page that I consider a waste of time.

Leechblock – for Mozilla
StayFocusd – for Chrome

Surprisingly, most of us don’t use more than just a couple of time-wasting websites so it’s quite an easy task to block them all.

What about you?

Are you guilty of any of these?

Also, if you have a friend who you think might benefit from this article, go ahead and send him this article! You might save him hundreds of hours of time in the process!