A study found that common symbols on your keyboard, such as &?!#@$, are easier to remember than the words they represent
Sometimes we wonder how people who have an ideographic alphabet, like Chinese, where each word is represented by a symbol, can remember it. Now, a new study led by the University of Waterloo has examined how symbols are remembered better than words with the same meaning.
Myra Fernandes, co-author and Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Waterloo, says: “Our work is groundbreaking in that it highlights how people remember graphic symbols and logos. “Icons are particularly useful as they can be used as logos in advertising and offer a faster way to communicate through emojis. Our studies of symbol memory provide clues for maximizing recall and improving communication.”
In five studies, researchers surveyed more than 1,100 adults to examine the role of symbols in memory. In the studies, participants were presented with a symbol or word equivalent, such as “$” or “dollar,” and asked how many symbols or words they could remember.
In all of the studies, researchers found that participants were better at remembering symbols than words with the same meaning.
“Symbols are easier to remember because they provide concrete images of abstract ideas,” explains Brady Roberts, lead author and PhD student in cognitive neuroscience. “When we think about abstract concepts like love, it can be difficult to visualize them clearly. But with symbols we can use some kind of image that represents the concept – like a heart for love – which makes the abstract idea more concrete and therefore easier to remember.”
Roberts adds that symbols may also be easier to remember because they are unique and typically represent a single concept, while words can have multiple meanings. Consider the game symbol (▷, play). It has only one meaning: start playing a medium. But the word ‘play’ has many other meanings in English, such as ‘game’ or ‘theatrical performance’, and there are many synonyms for the word, such as ‘begin’, ‘start’ or ‘begin’.
The authors hope their work will help in the future of visual design to clearly communicate complicated or abstract ideas.
Symbol Superiority: Why the Dollar is Better to Remember than the “Dollar”