Vision trumps all other senses
“Our visual sense is
so important to us, that
the brain devotes half
of its resources to it.”
— Dr. John J. Medina, Brain Scientist
That’s what Dr. John Medina plainly asserts, and although as a professor he is entertainingly witty, as an evolutionary brain scientist, he could be rather grumpy—by his own admission.
In his recent book Brain Rules he emphatically writes: “Visual processing doesn’t just assist in the perception of our world. It dominates the perception of our world”. This is an extremely important fact with enormous implications for business communications.
As a neuroscientist, Dr. Medina doesn’t take human senses lightly and to make his point in the book, he starts by recounting a comical, personal story: a wine-tasting soirée to which he was mistakenly invited and from which he was hastily escorted out the door—“once picked off the floor rolling with laughter” at the flowery vocabularies the wine experts were using to describe their wines. These enologists however, take their language very seriously. They employ two different vocabularies, one for whites and another one for reds, and these are never supposed to cross. But given the variations in individual sensorial perceptions, the scientist was very skeptical, and he wondered how objective these wine tasters actually could be.
Seeing is believing
The same question had intrigued French neuroscientist Frédéric Brochet who led a mischievous wine experiment using 54 wine experts at the University of Bordeaux. His team of scientists set out to determine which of the two senses—visual or olfactory—is the main driver of professional wine-taster’s vocabulary, and how objective were their descriptions. To establish that, Brochet dropped an odourless and tasteless red die into a white wine. With only the visual sense altered he called in the experts. Incredibly, every one of them described the dyed white wine as a red, and used the vocabulary of the reds. One expert said that it was “jammy,” while another enjoyed its “crushed red fruit” providing scientists with irrefutable proof that visual input, surpassed their other highly trained senses.
Vision trumps all other senses—it’s brain rule number ten in professor Medina’s book. And why is vision so important to us? “Perhaps because it is the principal means by which we’ve always apprehended threats, food and reproductive opportunity. He also ads: “Vision is so important that the brain devotes half of its resources to it.” This helps explain why experienced wine tasters dropped their taste buds so quickly in the thrall to visual stimuli.
Bear in mind
Dr. Medina’s case for the brain’s visual bias is compelling. When it comes to communication and memory, pictures and text follow very different rules. Simply put, the more visual your message is, the better it is recognized and recalled. It’s known as the pictorial superiority effect (PSE) and is a well-established fact. To illustrate it Dr. Medina refers to tests performed years ago which demonstrated dramatic results: people could remember more than 2,500 pictures with 90 percent, accuracy, several days post-exposure, even though they only saw each picture for 10 seconds. Accuracy rates a year later, were still around 63 percent.
Show don’t tell
Wonder how pictures compare with text and oral messages?
It buries them both. Text and oral presentations are not just less efficient than pictures for retaining information—they are way less efficient.
“When information is presented orally, people remember about 10 percent, when tested 72 hours after exposure. But that figure goes up to 65 percent if you add a picture.” There is solid evidence that we learn and remember best through pictures, not through written or spoken words.
So what’s Dr. Medina’s advice? Toss your current PowerPoint presentations and make new ones—for starters. Why? They’re text-based—nearly 40 words per slide, with six hierarchical levels of chapters and subheads, all words. They’re incredibly inefficient as a way to transfer information.
The main reason text is so inefficient for us—he explains—is because we see letters as tiny little pictures that need to be decoded into meaning. “Data clearly shows that a word is unreadable unless the brain can separately identify simple features in the letters, making it indeed, a very slow process.”
Images help engage the audience and provide a counterpoint to text. They’re fast and make a visceral connection to messages described by the written language, but their relevancy is critical to your message.
MängaDesign with its proven NeuroCreative process can help your business apply the power of relevant images to build a suite of NeuroAssets. These proven NeuroCommunication marketing tools, tap into the Reptilian Brain’s visual bias by simplifying information that’s abstract, conceptual or process–oriented, and displaying it concisely at-a-glance.