The picture superiority effect refers to the phenomenon in which pictures and images are more likely to be remembered than are words. This effect has been demonstrated in numerous experiments using different methods. It is based on the notion that “human memory is extremely sensitive to the symbolic modality of presentation of event information”. Explanations for the picture superiority effect are not concrete and are still being debated.
Allan Paivio‘s dual-coding theory is a basis of picture superiority effect. Paivio claims that pictures have advantages over words with regards to coding and retrieval of stored memory because pictures are coded more easily and can be retrieved from symbolic mode, while the dual coding process using words is more difficult for both coding and retrieval. Another explanation of the higher recall in picture superiority is the higher familiarity or frequency of pictured objects (Asch & Ebenholtz, 1962). According to dual-coding theory (1971, 1986), memory exists either (or both) verbally or through imagery. Concrete concepts presented as pictures are encoded into both systems; however, abstract concepts are recorded only verbally. In psychology, the effect has implications for salience in attribution theory as well as the availability heuristic. It is also relevant to advertising and user interface design.
Picture stimuli have an advantage over word stimuli because they are dually encoded; they generate a verbal and image code, whereas word stimuli only generate a verbal code. Pictures are likely to generate a verbal label, whereas words are not likely to generate image labels.