Profs Present: Drawing as a reliable technique to boost memory

Wednesday, November 23, 2022 12:10 pm - 1:00 pm EST (GMT -05:00)

Myra Fernandes


Sketchnoting has recently emerged in popular culture, as an alternative to writing text-based notes; it incorporates graphics and illustrations as a means to record and remember materials presented in lectures, and meetings. Despite its growing popularity, there has been limited basic cognitive research assessing the merit of drawing (sketching) as a mnemonic strategy. In our recent research, we explored whether drawing to-be-learned information enhanced memory, and found it to be a reliable, replicable means of boosting performance. Specifically, we have shown this technique can be applied to enhance learning of individual words and pictures as well as textbook definitions, sentences, and even autobiographical events. We have also shown that gains are greater from drawing than other known mnemonic techniques, such as semantic elaboration, visualization, writing, and even tracing to-be-remembered information. We suggest that incorporating visuo-perceptual information into the memory trace, by drawing pictures, enhances memory by increasing reliance on, and integration with, visuo-perceptual processing regions in the brain. Because these regions remain relatively intact, despite the widespread neural deterioration associated with normal aging and in dementia, we also examined relative gains afforded by drawing in these populations. We again found significant enhancements in memory performance for information that was drawn relative to written during encoding. Our findings suggest that drawing is a valuable technique leading to measurable gains in memory performance. Remarkably, it is also particularly effective in helping individuals with memory deficits to preserve valuable episodic memories.


Professor Myra Fernandes

Dr. Myra Fernandes is a Professor in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Waterloo, Canada. Her research examines neural and cognitive factors that affect memory function in healthy young adults, senior citizens, those with a concussion, and those with a dementia. She holds a B.Sc. in Psychology & Biology from University of Waterloo (1995), as well as a Masters (1996) and PhD (2001) from University of Toronto, Canada, in Cognitive Neuropsychology.  Dr Fernandes is the past President of the Canadian Society for Brain Behaviour and Cognitive Sciences. She was awarded the Women in Cognitive Science Canada Mentorship Award in 2017.

Dr. Fernandes is a past Associate Editor for Memory & Cognition, and Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Science, for which she received an Extraordinary Service Award. She is on the Editorial Board for Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition, Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Science, Psychology and Aging, Brain Sciences, and Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology. She is a recipient of the Canadian Psychological Association’s President’s New Researcher Award, as well as the Ontario Ministry of Research & Innovation’s Research Excellence Award.  She was named Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, and of the CSBBCS.

Dr. Fernandes is a past co-Chair of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s grant review panel for Biological Systems, and is a past review board member for the Canadian Institutes for Health Research. She was Head Co-Organisor of a Canadian national Career fair in 2020 and 2021, and is part of the Canadian Psychological Association’s Education & Training Committee.

Dr. Fernandes has published over 80 articles that use behavioural and neuroimaging techniques to examine how memory works. She has published multiple book chapters, books for the public, and a textbook for Introductory Cognition. Her research is frequently featured in newspapers (The New York Times, the Globe & Mail, The Huffington Post), on television (CBC The National), in magazines (Time Magazine), and science documentaries worldwide, in the areas of Psychology, Law, Neurosciences, Business, Biology, Technology, and Education.