Examining competing hypotheses for the effects of diagrams on recall for text

Francesca R. Ortegren, Michael J. Serra, Benjamin D. England

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Supplementing text-based learning materials with diagrams typically increases students’ free recall and cued recall of the presented information. In the present experiments, we examined competing hypotheses for why this occurs. More specifically, although diagrams are visual, they also serve to repeat information from the text they accompany. Both visual presentation and repetition are known to aid students’ recall of information. To examine to what extent diagrams aid recall because they are visual or repetitive (or both), we had college students in two experiments (n = 320) read a science text about how lightning storms develop before completing free-recall and cued-recall tests over the presented information. Between groups, we manipulated the format and repetition of target pieces of information in the study materials using a 2 (visual presentation of target information: diagrams present vs. diagrams absent) × 2 (repetition of target information: present vs. absent) between-participants factorial design. Repetition increased both the free recall and cued recall of target information, and this occurred regardless of whether that repetition was in the form of text or a diagram. In contrast, the visual presentation of information never aided free recall. Furthermore, visual presentation alone did not significantly aid cued recall when participants studied the materials once before the test (Experiment 1) but did when they studied the materials twice (Experiment 2). Taken together, the results of the present experiments demonstrate the important role of repetition (i.e., that diagrams repeat information from the text) over the visual nature of diagrams in producing the benefits of diagrams for recall.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-84
Number of pages15
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014


  • Diagrams
  • Dual-coding
  • Recall
  • Repetition effect


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