''I Don't Remember'': Why Verbal Reminders Don't Work

Studies show that verbal information is inferior compared to visual information. Visual reminders are much more effective than verbal, as visual reminders are both more memorable and increases the attention span.

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Mar 28, 2019

Tiimo member

March 28, 2019
Charlotte Egeskov
Content Manager & Science Writer

As it turns out, our brain stores information in very different ways depending on the type of information it is exposed to. Audio information is stored in one way - think of a more temporary to fleeting way - while visual information is stored entirely different. Stored in a much better way. A way that makes a visual memory much easier to recall.

Can you recall the last time you forgot something? Maybe it was the last time someone told you a phone number and before you could say it a few time over in your head or write it down, you briefly got distracted by something.. and POOF! It’s gone, without any trace of its existence in your mind.
We all forget stuff from time to time. Either we don’t pay attention, we get distracted or have a million other things in our mind. But for people with ADHD, who already have attention span difficulties, memory and recalling stuff can be quite the quest in their daily lives.

The memory of images are far superior

A study from the 1970s demonstrates that subjects, exposed to 2.560 items for 10 seconds, was able to recall more than 90% or over 2.000 items (1). Another study examining the auditory recognition memory presented subjects with 96 distinctive 5-seconds sound clips of a broad range of sources, i.e. birds chirping, a coffee shop, motorcycles, etc. The subjects first listened to a session 64 sound clips before immediately moving on to the next session, listening to another 64 sound clips, half new clips and half clips from the first session. The subjects were asked to indicate whether the sound clips were old or new. The hit rate was 78% with a false alarm rate of 20% (2). To put this study in perspective, another study with 600 images yielded a hit rate of 98% (3).
So if your child tends to forget what you have told to do - or maybe youself struggle with remembering what others have told you - then there is a perfect natural reason for this. Simply lack of visual stimuli.

Pictures are not only easier to recognize and process than words, but also easier to recall. One reason why we tend to remember and recall visual images is due to the two codes that an image carry - one visual and one verbal.
The codes are stored different places in the brain, thus making the information more memorable and hereby remembrance easier and more likely, whereas words only carry the verbal code (4). Additionally, if you really want to remember something, a combination of words and pictures is best. As the memory store visual and verbal memories separately, a combination of both will increase the recollection (4).

From visual images to pictograms and emojis

These above findings, demonstrating the superiority of visual information are the reason why emojis are incorporated in the assistive tool, Tiimo app, in order to support people with cognitive challenges. With images or emojies, the reminders from Tiimo will likely be both remembered better and acted upon quicker.

People with ADHD have a fleeting mind or selective attention span, and therefore either tend to forget stuff or have trouble maintaining focus on a task at hand. Visual images and accompanying explanatory text can increase the processing of a task, recall of it and promote focus. Same goes for people on the spectrum who often communicate by the use of pictograms in a variety of situations (5).

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However, that some people with autism use pictograms and are able to associate the image with certain situations, like putting on clothes, does not mean that the individual actually understands what the image is displaying or representing. Professionals working closely with people with autism believe that some don't understand the picture, but understand and memorizes a certain combination of colors. This belief is derived from the observations where people with autism do not recognize an image if it has suffered the smallest alteration in shade of color, outline or size (5).

With Tiimo app our users' caregivers are able to use emojis, colors and own pictures in order to communicate in the best possible way to the user. Hereby conveying much stronger cues or reminders accompanied by text and visuals images, emojies or pictures.

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This not only improves the users' visual memory but also increasing the attention span for each activity or reminder. Two important factors for people with ADHD or autism who can struggle with focusing or remembering. Especially our emojis have been welcomed by our users - making the reminders more human, fun and humoristic.


  1. Standing, L., Conezio, J., & Haber, R. N. (1970). Perception and memory for pictures: Single-trial learning of 2500 visual stimuli. Psychonomic science, 19(2), 73-74.
  2. Cohen, M. A., Horowitz, T. S., & Wolfe, J. M. (2009). Auditory recognition memory is inferior to visual recognition memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (14), 6008-6010. Retrived from https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/106/14/6008.full.pdf.
  3. Shepard, R. N. (1967). Recognition memory for words, sentences, and pictures. Journal of verbal Learning and verbal Behavior, 6(1), 156-163. Dewan, P. (2015). Words versus pictures: Leveraging the research on visual communication. Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, 10(1).
  4. Dewan, P. (2015). Words versus pictures: Leveraging the research on visual communication. Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, 10(1).

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