Pictorial Illustrations Still Improve Students' Learning from Text
Russell N. Carney
Southwest Missouri State University
Joel R. Levin
University of Arizona
Running Head: Illustrations Improve Text Learning
Research conducted primarily during the 1970s and 1980s supported the assertion that
carefully constructed text illustrations generally enhance learners' performance on a variety of
text-dependent cognitive outcomes. Research conducted throughout the 1990s still strongly
supports that assertion. The more recent research has extended pictures-in-text conclusions to
alternative media and technological formats and has begun to explore more systematically the
"whys", "whens", and "for whoms" of picture facilitation, in addition to the "whethers" and "how
muchs." Consideration is given here to both more and less conventional types of textbook
illustration, with several "tenets for teachers" provided in relation to each type.
Pictorial Illustrations Still Improve Students' Learning from Text
In 1994, elaborate cave paintings were discovered in Ardennes, France, paintings that are
thought to be 30,000 years old. Far from being primitive, these animal paintings were skillfully
executed (Cutting & Massironi, 1998). As this find illustrates, from very early on people have
created pictures. Perhaps these early paintings served as "adjunct aids" to storytellers, playing
a role in humankind's development. Similarly, illustrations have been a part of our more recent
development via the picture storybooks of our childhoods.
Although the empirical educational research evidence strongly indicates that storybook
pictures may interfere with "learning to read" (i.e., the initial stages of extracting words and
meaning from text – see, for example, Levie, 1987; Levin, 1983; and Samuels, 1970), Fang
(1996, p. 136) suggests that "the contributions of pictures to the overall development of
children's literate behavior seems to be overwhelmingly greater than its potential dangers." In
that regard, Fang (1996) lists six roles that pictures play in storybooks. Pictures may serve to
help: (a) establish the setting; (b) define/develop the characters; (c) extend/develop the plot;
(d) provide a different viewpoint; (e) contribute to the text's coherence; and (f) reinforce the text.
Fang goes on to list several benefits that pictures provide, including such things as motivating
the reader, promoting creativity, serving as mental scaffolds, fostering aesthetic appreciation,
and promoting children's language and literacy. Also supportive of pictures in children's
storybooks, Goodman, Maras, and Birdseye (1994) decry the way in which illustrations have
been altered in order to force them into a basal format. Describing storybooks as both "an art
form and a genre of literature" (p. 20), they argue against such alteration and advocate the use
of storybooks in their original format as part of the reading curriculum.
Picture storybooks are sometimes called "twice-told tales" because both mediums, verbal
and pictorial, may tell the story. Such pictures are representational in nature, illustrating what is
described in the text. Further, the pictures in storybooks may go beyond this role by adding
additional details (e.g., Stewig, 1992). As Patricia Gauch, an author of children's books, has
observed: "Art, when it's really good, doesn't imitate or mirror the text. Rather, it adds a new
dimension that goes way beyond the words" (Raymond, 1995, p. 64). Using Maurice Sendak's
Where the Wild Things Are as an example, Sipe (1998) suggests that the child constructs
meaning through the interplay of text and image, which vary somewhat in content.
Although pictures in storybooks may go beyond text content, our focus in this review is on
the contributions that pictures make in complementing the text – serving as adjunct aids for
"reading to learn" (i.e., the processing of – which includes perceiving, understanding, and
remembering – text information). More than ever in our society, written prose is accompanied
by illustrations (e.g., David, 1998). In our schools, and in contrast to the densely worded
textbooks of the past, modern undergraduate texts are richly appointed with pictorial
illustrations, diagrams, photos, and the like. Even 15 years ago, this trend was apparent. Smith
and Elifson (1986) compared history textbooks of the 1960s with those of the 1980s and found a
tremendous increase in the number of pictures. On university campuses, many instructors
make use of software programs such as Powerpoint to include relevant pictures (and video) in
their classroom presentations. Computer software and internet sites routinely provide pictures
and illustrations as adjuncts to text content.
Given the ever-increasing use of pictures in connection with text in these and other
contexts, it is timely to review recent pictorial research. In that regard, we will focus here on
empirical research studies that have appeared in the professional literature primarily from the
1990s through the present. As a preview of what is to come, it is clear from that literature that
pictures (at least, well-selected or well-constructed pictures) reliably improve the reading-to-
learn process – just as had been concluded on the basis of the pictures-in-text research
literature through the 1980s (e.g., Levie, 1987; Levie & Lentz, 1982; Levin, Anglin, & Carney,
1987; Levin & Mayer, 1993; Mandl & Levin, 1989; Schallert, 1980).
Functions of Pictures in Prose
As was just noted, reviews of the effects of pictures on students' text processing
conducted in the 1980s examined reading-to-learn studies and found advantages for pictures as
text adjuncts. In particular, we (Levin et al., 1987) structured our meta-analytic review in terms
of Levin's (1981) five functions that pictures serve in text processing – four conventional
functions (decorational, representational, organizational, interpretational) and one more
unconventional one (transformational). Briefly, decorational pictures simply adorn the page,
bearing little or no relationship to the text content. In contrast, representational pictures mirror
part or all of the text content and are by far the most commonly used type of illustration.
Organizational pictures provide a useful structural framework for the text content.
Interpretational pictures help to clarify difficult text (e.g., representing blood pressure in terms of
a pump system). Finally, transformational pictures include systematic mnemonic (memory-
enhancing) components that are designed to improve a reader's recall of text information. Our
meta-analysis of the available empirical studies yielded the effect sizes that are presented in
Figure 1. Whereas purely decorational pictures exhibited virtually no beneficial text-learning
effects, the remaining effect sizes ranged from moderate benefits (for representational pictures)
to quite substantial benefits (for transformational pictures).1
We concluded our review with a light-hearted list that was dubbed the "ten
commandments of picture facilitation" (Levin et al., 1987, pp. 73-77). The commandments were
1. Pictures shalt be judiciously applied to text, to remember it wholly. This is a basic caveat
that the remaining commandments pertain to picture principles for improving students'
learning of and memory for text content, and not necessarily to other text-related
outcomes (e.g., print acquisition, engagement and enjoyment, processing speed,
application and transfer).
2. Pictures shalt honor the text. That is, the picture needs to correspond to the text. As we
have seen, purely decorational pictures do not improve students' learning of text content.
3. Pictures shalt not bear false fitness to the text. Conflicting pictures are most likely not
helpful, and may even hinder learning.
4. Pictures shalt not be used in the presence of "heavenly" bodies of prose. If the text is
highly memorable to begin with, there is no need to add pictures.
5. Pictures shalt not be used with text cravin' for images. That is, if the text content directly
elicits useful mental images in students (as is often the case with engaging concrete
narrative texts), providing pictures or instructing students to generate their own text-
related imagery is often superfluous.
6. Pictures shalt not be prepared in vain. A reader's possession of basic reading skills is
required for picture benefits to emerge. Pictures are intended as text supplements rather
than as text substitutes.
7. Pictures shalt be faithfully created from generation to generation. As an analog to
Commandment 6, this means that for a learner to generate beneficial internal pictorial
representations of the text (i.e., visual images), the learner must similarly possess
adequate basic reading skills.
8. Pictures shalt not be adulterated. This emphasizes the need to design good-quality
9. Pictures shalt be appreciated for the art they art. Veridical "pictorial" representations
should be distinguished from "figural" representations, such as graphs or flow charts.
10. Pictures shalt be made to perform their appropriate functions. The amount and type of
prose-learning facilitation are related of the type of picture selected.
As an addendum to pictures-in-text functional analyses and commandments, Levin
and Mayer (1993) proposed seven "C" principles for explaining the "whys" of picture
facilitation. In particular, they suggest that pictures improve students' learning from text
because they make the text more: concentrated (focused, with respect to directing a
reader's attention), compact/concise ("a picture is worth a thousand words"), concrete (the
representation function), coherent (the organization function), comprehensible (the
interpretation function), correspondent (relating unfamiliar text to a reader's prior
knowledge), and codable (the mnemonic transformation function). Further, Levin and
Mayer adapt Bransford's (1979) version of Jenkins' (1979) tetrahedral model to argue that
four variables must be taken into account when considering the "whys", "whens," and "for
whoms" of picture facilitation: desired performance outcomes (e.g., comprehension,
memory, transfer), the nature of the illustrations (e.g., that they must be related to the text
content), the nature of the text (e.g., the more difficult the text is to understand, the more
likely that pictures will help), and learner characteristics (e.g., learners lacking domain-
relevant background knowledge are likely to benefit more from illustrations) – see also
Mayer (1992) and Gyselinck & Tardieu (1999).
In a related review, Peeck (1993) lists a number of reasons why pictures should facilitate
learning, including: increasing motivation, focusing attention, depth of processing, clarification of
text content, dual-coding theory, distinctive encoding, decreasing interference/decay, processing
support for the type of information typically extracted from a specific type of text (e.g., Waddill &
McDaniel, 1992; Waddill, McDaniel, & Einstein, 1988), and serving as mental models (e.g.,
Glenberg & Langston, 1992; Gyselinck & Tardieu, 1994). Nevertheless, Peeck goes on to doubt
that pictures contribute much to text processing in real-life situations. As Weidenmann (1989)
argued, for a variety of reasons "good pictures fail." For example, pictures are often viewed as
"easy" material and may be examined only superficially by learners.
Peeck also describes picture effects in relation to the tetrahedron model. In contrast to the
Levin and Mayer (1993) review, which focused largely on illustration-text characteristics and
correspondence, Peeck's article emphasizes the latter part of Bransford's (1979) model: learner
characteristics and learning activities. Learner characteristics of importance are the age of the
learner, the learner's reading ability, and the learner's "visual literacy" (i.e., one's ability to "read"
pictures). Peeck describes several attempts to teach such literacy, including approaches by
Constable, Cambell, and Brown (1988) and Higgins (1979). He recommends teaching visual
literacy in the context of teaching reading comprehension (e.g., Palincsar & Brown, 1984).
Shifting to learning activities, Peeck asserts that simply asking students to pay more attention to
pictures is not likely to increase the students' processing of them. He cites three studies
(Bernard, 1990; Reinking, Hayes & McEneaney, 1988; and Weidenmann, 1989) suggesting that
the effect of text illustrations is enhanced when explicit instructions or cues are provided (Peeck,
1993, p. 234).
Peeck concludes with a helpful summary table. Here, his recommendation for the optimal
processing of adjunct pictures is to "tell the student to do something with the illustration" and to
require a "controllable" product (p. 235). For example, one might ask students to label features
of illustrations accompanying text – analogous to Dean and Kulhavy's (1981) findings with
respect to labeling maps.
We now briefly review several pictures-in-text studies published within the last decade.
This review is grouped according to the posited Levin et al. (1987) functions of the particular
pictures examined: representational, organizational, interpretational, and transformational.
Because of space limitations, our summary is selective (although, we hope, representative),
rather than comprehensive. In addition, we include here only research findings based on
"pictures" as text-provided visual illustrations (on the page, or on the computer screen) and not
findings based on "pictures" as learner-generated visual imagery (in the head) – see Levin et al.
(1987) for both the distinction and a meta-analytic summary of both literatures through the
Recall that representational pictures literally depict or overlap (part or all of) the text
content. They are undoubtedly the most common and pervasive type of pictorial text adjunct.
Adler (1993) completed a dissertation in which she looked at how different directions for
processing representational pictures affected students' recall of text information dealing with
water safety and rescue in emergency situations. College undergraduates were randomly
assigned to one of four picture-processing conditions (Adler, 1993, p. 49): no explicit processing
directions, explicit processing (e.g., "How many objects are in the picture? Write your answer
below."), semantic elaboration (e.g., "Specifically, how does the picture relate to the text? Write
your answer below."), and interrogative elaboration (e.g., answering a "why" or "what" question,
such as "What other things are thrown the way this is thrown?"). Adler found a statistical
advantage for the interrogative elaboration treatment.
Using Paivio's (e.g., 1971, 1986) dual-coding theory as a theoretical backdrop, David
(1998) conducted several experiments concerning the usefulness of incorporating a
representational picture into a news item. As David (1998, p. 182) notes: "Because the basic
purpose of the representation function is to make the story concrete, it provides an ideal
framework to test the interaction between news story concreteness and the facilitative role of
pictures." In Experiment 1, for example, undergraduates read a randomized set of 30 news
stories dealing with celebrities. The 30 stories were presented via computer, and of these, half
included a representational photograph. Following a 30-min filler task, students were asked to
recall the names of the celebrities. David found a recall advantage for the text/picture condition
relative to the text-only condition (corroborating Levin and Berry's, 1980, conclusions derived
from children listening to news stories with and without pictorial accompaniments). Additional
experiments replicated this basic finding and also supported the notion that concrete news in
general was better remembered than abstract news. Moreover, in one experiment (Exp. 3)
David found that adding a picture to a concrete news story was more beneficial than adding a
picture to an abstract news story.
Many of the representational pictures studies reviewed through the 1980s consisted of
children processing narrative passages. A recently reported study by Rubman and Waters
(2000) extended Lesgold, Levin, Shimron, and Guttmann's (1975) earlier work on young
children's (first graders') cumulative construction of a picture (through the use of illustrated
cutout figures and backgrounds) while listening to a story. In the Rubman and Waters study,
third and sixth graders engaged in a similar picture-construction task while reading a passage
on their own. In addition to replicating the Lesgold et al. (1975) finding of increased story recall
by picture-constructing children (relative to no-picture control children), Rubman and Waters
reported that the children who constructed pictures of the story were better able to detect
inconsistencies that were embedded in the stories (i.e., contradictions with either preceding text
information or common knowledge). The latter result was assumed by the authors to reflect
superior comprehension monitoring (e.g., Markman, 1979) on the part of children who were
provided with the pictorial accompaniments.
As was stated earlier, organizational pictures provide a structural framework for the text
content. Betrancourt and Bisseret (1998) wanted to know how best to present the text
information in conjunction with an organizational picture.3 Toward that end, they presented
pictorial information on a computer through pop-up windows. Three displays on the computer
screen were compared: a "split" display, in which the text and picture appeared in separate
parts of the screen; an "integrated" display, in which the text and picture appeared in close
proximity; and a "pop-up" display, in which the pictorial elements appeared when the user
clicked a link on the screen. The authors summarize their findings as follows: "The integration
of text information via pop-up fields increased the learning efficiency compared with a split
format, but this advantage is significant only with regard to the integration of text-picture
information, as opposed to either pictorial or textual information alone. Second, the information
was more quickly retrieved from memory when the material was integrated (spatially or in
pop-up fields) as compared to a split display...These results support the hypothesis that an
integrated display (either spatially or in pop-up windows) improves subjects' performance in
memorizing a labeled schema" (Betrancourt & Bisseret, 1998, p. 268). The authors go on to list
three "pragmatic" reasons why the pop-up approach might be preferred: (a) it saves screen
space and hence improves legibility; (b) it allows either text or picture to appear in the
foreground – there is a tendency for learners to pay more attention to the text than the picture
(e.g., Levie & Lentz, 1982; Peeck, 1993); and (c) it is more interactive for the learner, and hence
improves motivation and performance.
Betrancourt and Bisseret (1998, p. 272) additionally speculate that "the integrated format
helps the learners mentally integrate the two sources of information and allows the learners to
avoid splitting their attention between the two media. Therefore, fewer cognitive resources
would be required to process the document, thus increasing the remaining working-memory
capacity allocated to learning." Such interpretations mesh well with those offered by other
researchers with respect to the function of integrated pictures in learning science and
mathematics concepts and skills (e.g., Marcus, Cooper, & Sweller, 1996; Mayer & Anderson,
1992; Mayer & Moreno, 1998; Mousavi, Low, & Sweller, 1995) – as will become apparent in the
immediately following section.
By far, the greatest number of research studies during the decade of the 1990s have
examined interpretational pictures as clarifiers of difficult-to-understand material (often scientific
or other technical concepts). In that regard, Richard Mayer and his colleagues have extensively
investigated the use of adjunct illustrations in facilitating students' understanding of scientific
explanations (see also Mayer's article in this issue). Mayer (1989) suggested that four
conditions must be met for pictorial illustrations to be helpful: (1) the text must describe a
cause-and-effect system; (2) the illustrations must reasonably depict the system or process
under consideration; (3) appropriate outcome measures must be selected; and (4) the learners
must be inexperienced with respect to the targeted content domain. As a representative
example, Mayer and Gallini (1990) conducted three experiments dealing with scientific devices
(see Figure 2). In these studies, a no-illustration (control) condition was compared to two
illustration conditions. One presented static pictures of a machine (e.g., a braking system), with
labels for each step ("steps" pictures); and the second displayed the "on" and "off" states of the
machine, with labels for each part and step ("parts-and-steps" pictures). It was found that
parts-and-steps pictures improved students' conceptual information recall and problem solving,
particularly for low prior-knowledge students. Mayer and Gallini refer to parts-and-steps
pictures as "explanative" illustrations and suggest that such illustrations serve as "runnable
mental models" for the learner (see also Glenberg & Langston, 1992; and Gyselinck & Tardieu,
1994, 1999). More recently, Mayer and Moreno (1998) compared on-screen text with concurrent
narration as adjuncts to a computer-generated animation that presented the process of lightning
formation. They found performance advantages for the concurrent narration condition and
offered a "split-attention" account in the context of Paivio's (e.g., 1986) dual-processing model of
Reid and Beveridge (1990) conducted a computer-based experiment dealing with
illustrated science texts.4 One hundred eighty 14-year-olds were directed to study three
illustrated science topics presented by computer: "transport of sugar in plants," "exchange of
gases in the leaf," and "conduction of the nerve" (p. 77). The length of the text ran from 232 to
245 words. The computer recorded the time that students spent on the sentences and pictures.
Additionally, it recorded at which point in the sentences the student first looked at the picture.
General findings were that: (a) more difficult topics were associated with more time looking at
pictures (consistent with Levin and Mayer's, 1993, and Mayer's, 1989, assumptions); and
(b) "less successful" students spent more time looking at the pictures than did their "more
successful" counterparts. Note, however, that although the first finding is relatively interpretable
(because "text difficulty" levels were defined on an a priori basis), the second finding is not
(because "success" levels were defined post hoc on the basis of students' learning of the
experimental texts and, therefore, there is no clear separation of the effects of student
characteristics, picture looking, and text learning).
Riding and Douglas (1993) examined students' "cognitive style" in relation to their learning
about car brake systems under two computerized presentation formats. Secondary students
were randomly assigned to one of two experimental conditions: (1) text plus accompanying
verbal descriptions, and (2) text plus accompanying pictorial illustrations. Completion of the
computer activity and the test was followed by a cognitive-style assessment, with the focal style
being the verbal-imagery dimension. In brief, "imagers" performed better (learned more) than
"verbalizers" with the pictures format, whereas verbalizers performed better than imagers with
the descriptions format.
Prompted, in part, by the findings of an assessment team that concluded that "few texts
and their accompanying illustrations [are]...even marginally clear and easy to comprehend"
(Benson, 1995, p. 2; see also Blystone & Dettling, 1990), Benson (1995) conducted an
interesting dissertation investigation titled "Problems in picturing text." In that study, 15 experts
from three disciplines (textbook illustration design, editing, and biology) were asked to diagnose
and solve problems related to three high-school level biology topics that were accompanied by
illustrations. One illustration (which we would characterize as "representational") depicted the
flow of ice in New England during a particular ice age. A second illustration (characterized as
"organizational"), illustrated the life cycle of a fern. The third illustration (characterized as
"interpretational") displayed the life cycle of black bread mold.5 The three text/illustration
combinations were also read and interpreted by 14 first-year undergraduate biology students.
Perhaps suprisingly, the experts were unable to predict the undergraduates'
misinterpretations of the illustrations, and some did not even notice problems in the
text/illustration combinations themselves. Benson suggests that such problems may happen for
two reasons. First, they may occur because the various experts producing text/illustration
combinations are not working face-to-face. Second, and relatedly, problems may occur
because experts working independently may "advocate their own problem solving frameworks
rather than synthesize their perspectives with those of other experts" (Benson, 1995, p. vi).
Balluerka (1995) compared adjunct instructional aids in the context of a relatively long
scientific passage dealing with the photocopying process (1336 words). The four conditions
provided either: (a) no adjunct aids (control); (b) written instructions that provided an overview;
(c) the same written instructions plus directions to form a study outline; and (d) an illustration
(which we would characterize as an "interpretational" picture) that depicted the systems
described in the text. Students were allowed 22 minutes to study the text and the
corresponding adjunct aids. Dependent measures included a 5-item application test, and a
24-item true/false recognition test, either immediately or after 24 hours. Balluerka's results
(based on both the immediate and delayed tests) indicated that all three adjunct aids facilitated
performance in comparison to the no-aids control group.
Iding (1997) conducted three experiments in which questions were designed to facilitate
the processing of scientific diagrams in textbooks. In these studies, questions either: (a)
replaced traditional figure captions on the illustrations (Exp. 1); or (b) were placed directly in the
text (Exps. 2 & 3). Based on her research, Iding concluded that the use of questions did not
facilitate learning. She explained her findings in terms of previous "cognitive load" theorizing
(e.g., Mousavi et al., 1995). That is, "questions about illustrations might cause cognitive
resources to be unnecessarily and deleteriously expended in the text-diagram integration
process" (Iding, 1997, p. 22).
Ollerenshaw, Aidman, and Kidd (1997) compared the performance of undergraduates
under four study conditions, in a passage dealing with the operation of pumps: text only, text
plus diagram with labels, text plus diagram illustrating major operating stages, or "full
multimedia" (text and an animated simulation were computer projected in a darkened room). In
the initial session, students completed a test of prior knowledge, similar to that of Mayer and
Gallini (1990). In a second session, students completed a measure of learning style (the "Study
Process Questionnaire"), and, following study of the pumps passage in their respective
conditions for 10 minutes, they took a text comprehension test. In general, the authors found
that students provided with computer-simulated multimedia diagrams outperformed students in
the other three conditions. Moreover, from a student-differences perspective (and in accord with
both Mayer and Gallini's, 1990, findings and Levin and Mayer's, 1993, resultant assumptions),
the authors found that "...students with low prior knowledge profited most from comprehensive,
informative visual illustrations" (Ollerenshaw et al., 1997, p. 235).
Weidenmann, Paechter, and Hartmannsgruber (1999) conducted two computer
experiments involving the structuring and sequencing of interpretational illustrations. The
learning material dealt with three topics: the awarding of "quality badges," solar energy, and the
effect of stress on hormones. Three different picture formats were compared: (a) a top-down,
"zoom" presentation; (b) a step-by-step presentation; and (c) a static picture. Studying from
these presentations was followed by an unrelated activity and then a test over the content.
Participants also assessed their strategy's effectiveness and stated the order of their
preferences for the three picture formats. In the latter instance, students tended to prefer the
"zoom" presentation. Interestingly, however, students' preferences for particular strategies were
not related to how well they learned the material. The authors concluded that the particular
strategy students use is less important than the amount of time spent processing the pictures.
Transformational (Mnemonic) Pictures
Levin and his colleagues have examined adjunct transformational (mnemonic) pictures as
aids to students' learning from text (for earlier reviews, see Levin, 1982; and McCormick &
Levin, 1987). During the past decade, Dretzke (1993) examined the effects of mnemonic
illustrations on the prose recall of younger (17-29 years), middle-aged (40-50 years), and older
(60-84 years) adults. Within each age group, participants were randomly assigned to one of
three conditions, two of which are relevant to this review: mnemonic illustration and text-only
control. Based on the earlier work of Levin, Shriberg, and Berry (1983), the text material
consisted of six passages describing fictitious cities and five associated concrete attributes, as,
Belleview is attractively situated at the base on an inactive volcano, which last
erupted in the eighteenth century. Hot air balloon rides provide a thrilling way for
visitors to take in the lovely surroundings. A large automobile museum in the city
boasts to have the best collection of turn-of-the-century classics that can be found in
this part of the country. This is also the home of skilled craftsmen known for their
handmade musical instruments. Every summer, thousands of folks from all over the
world come here to compete against the best in an Olympic-style marathon.
(Dretzke, 1993, pp. 493-494)
In the mnemonic condition, the cities' names were represented as illustrated "keywords" (e.g., a
bell for Belleview), along with the pictured city attributes (see Figure 3). Dretzke found that
mnemonic illustrations were useful in facilitating both younger and middle-aged adults' recall of
concrete text material (relative to the text-only control condition).6 Keyword illustrations served
to organize participants' subsequent recall of the text information (i.e., attribute clustering) at all
three age levels. Further, Dretzke found a relationship between verbal ability and recall
performance for older adults in both the mnemonic and control conditions, suggesting that
"...with increasing age it becomes more difficult for adults of relatively lower verbal ability to
process effectively the information presented in complex pictorial interactions" (p. 499).
Levin and Levin (1990) reported a series of experimental studies (including those of Levin,
Rosenheck, & Levin, 1988, and Rosenheck, Levin, & Levin, 1989) in which a pictorial mnemonic
taxonomy, or "mnemonomy," was constructed to organize the content from a botany passage
(see Figure 4). Of particular interest to these investigators was whether mnemonic illustrations
could enable students go "beyond the information given" (e.g., Bruner, 1966) and assist them in
performing "higher-order" cognitive application tasks (Levin, 1986), such as those involving
inference, problem solving, and analogical and syllogistic reasoning based on the botany
content. Combined with separate mnemonic illustrations for solidifying unfamiliar terminology
and definitions, the pictorial mnemonomy was found to be a potent facilitator of students'
information reconstruction and application performance (relative to performance in a free-study
condition), both on immediate tests and on delayed tests up to two months later.
More recently, Levin's research group has extended their positive higher-order mnemonic
findings to other learning-from-text tasks. For example, Atkinson et al. (1999) conducted three
experiments in which the text-processing benefits of rows-and-columns matrix structures,
mnemonic illustrations, and their combination (in a mnemonic matrix, or "mnematrix"), were
examined. A central conclusion of these studies was that the memorial benefits of mnemonic
illustrations and mnematrices may be more critical than the "...computational-efficiency
properties of [conventional] matrices with respect to performing well on tasks...requiring memory
for previously studied factual information, including the organization and manipulation of that
information" (Atkinson et al., 1999, p. 356). The authors argue that the ready access to
information that mnemonic strategies afford can facilitate students' acquisition of higher-order
concepts and skills. Additional recent research (e.g., Atkinson, Levin, Beitzel, & Glover, 1999)
has replicated and extended the initial Atkinson et al. findings.
As a final transformational-illustration example, Rummel, Levin, & Beitzel (2001) recently
constructed a lengthy two-topic text passage in which was presented a variety of theoretical
(Topic 1) and psychometric (Topic 2) conceptions of intelligence. The passage was given to 40
college students under one of two conditions, mnemonic and free study. In the mnemonic
condition, illustrations relating people's names (e.g., a thirsty person for Thurstone, a gardener
for Gardner) to both their associated topic (theory or measurement) and their specific
contributions. For both factual memory (a relatively "lower level" name-fact matching task) and
essay writing (a relatively "higher level" critical-information production task), students in the
mnemonic condition outperformed their free-study counterparts.
Guidelines for Educators Considering Text-Accompanying Illustrations
We conclude this pictures-in-text review with a list of 10 practical suggestions for
educators, or what might be called "10 tenets for teachers." The first four tenets are derived
from our earlier "ten commandments" of pictorial facilitation of text information (Levin et al.,
1. Select pictures that overlap with text content. Learning benefits occur when pictures
and text provide congruent, or supporting, information. Decorational illustrations may help to
make the text more attractive or more marketable, but they are unlikely to enhance desired
outcomes related to understanding, remembering, or applying the text content. As a corollary
related to the pervasive use of pictures in teaching children beginning reading skills (i.e.,
phonemic awareness, word decoding, and word recognition): With precious few exceptions
(e.g., Levin, 1983, pp. 219-223), the bulk of the research literature suggests that providing
representational picture adjuncts is not a good idea.
2. Easy-to-follow texts that are highly concrete and engaging (e.g., interesting narrative
passages) readily elicit visual imagery in students and therefore are unlikely to yield additional
cognitive benefits from the inclusion of pictures.
3. Prerequisite basic reading skills are required on the part of the student for positive
effects of pictures to emerge. At the same time, young children or other students lacking such
skills can improve their listening comprehension and recall with well-selected pictorial
4. Choose pictures with an eye toward the desired functions they are to play, namely –
and applying earlier-presented terminology – representational (to make the text more concrete),
organizational (to make the text more coherent), interpretational (to make the text more
comprehensible), or transformational (to make the text more codable – and more memorable),
in light of the desired learning outcomes.
The remaining six tenets are derived from our review of some of the more recent pictures-
5. In general, the more complex the text, the more likely that pictures will be helpful (Levin
& Mayer, 1993). In particular, explanative (or interpretational) pictures will function as useful
mental models if: (a) the text describes a cause-and-effect system or complex process (e.g.,
Mayer & Gallini, 1990); and (b) the learners are relatively inexperienced in the content domain
(e.g., Mayer & Gallini, 1990; Ollerenshaw et al., 1997).
6. To yield the maximum benefits from pictures as text adjuncts, direct students to do
something with the picture that yields a controllable product, such as labeling the features of the
illustration (Peeck, 1993) or structuring the process so that students are certain to be
constructing a veridical pictorial representation of the passage (e.g., Rubman & Waters, 2000) .
Adler (1993) found that asking "why" or "what" questions about pictures was useful, although it
should be noted that Iding (1997) did not find question benefits in another context.
7. Computer software that uses integrated or pop-up displays may be more effective than
those using split displays in which the picture and text appear in separated locations on the
screen (Betrancourt & Bisseret,1998). This picture-text adjacency principle is consistent with
Mayer's conclusions from his "multimedia" investigations (see, Mayer, this volume). Simply put,
adjunct aids should be proximally adjunct!
8. You may also want/need to consider students' individual learning styles. For example,
Riding and Douglas (1993) found that students displaying an "imager" cognitive style profited
more from animated pictorial adjuncts than did students displaying a "verbalizer" style. In a
complementary vein two decades earlier, Levin, Divine-Hawkins, Kerst, and Guttmann (1974,
Exp. 2) reported that students who were adept at remembering pictured objects benefitted more
from instructions to generate text-related visual images while they read (relative to students who
were not as adept at remembering pictured objects).
9. Realize that even professionally designed pictures and illustrations in textbooks are not
necessarily perfect, nor easy for students to comprehend or remember (e.g., Benson, 1995; see
also Guri, 1985). Thus, even though a particular textbook illustration may be designed to be
cognitively useful, it may turn out to be functionally useless unless the learner perceives the
illustrated content or process in the intended manner.
10. Finally – and of special significance to the present authors – consider the use of
transformational (mnemonic) pictures as pictorial adjuncts to text. Although mnemonic
illustrations are rarely encountered in current textbooks (see, for example, Mayer, 1992),
teachers can learn how to develop creative and powerful illustrations of this kind. Nontechnical
accounts of mnemonic principles and procedures targeted at educators, students, and just
regular folks have been provided by Carney and Levin (1998), Carney, Levin, and Levin (1993),
Higbee (1988), and Levin (1980, 1998), among others. Mnemonic illustrations have been
associated with impressive memory-for-text gains in a large number of experimental studies
dealing with a variety of text topics and genres (e.g., Levin, 1995; McCormick & Levin, 1987),
with such illustrations producing higher-order application gains as well (e.g., Atkinson et al.,
1999; Levin & Levin, 1990). At the same time, with the numerous mnemonic text-learning
successes have come selected mnemonic text-learning failures (e.g., Ho, 1999; Renandya et
al., 1993). An important research priority is to identify the situational characteristics that
distinguish between the successes and failures so that more specifically "useful" mnemonic
illustration guidelines can be developed.
Although our 10 commandments of pictures-in-text facilitation (Levin et al., 1987) were not
chiseled in stone, they nonetheless have stood the test of a more than a decade's worth of time.
Indeed, the first four of our current 10 tenets for teachers were derived from those
commandments. Our additional six teacher-directed suggestions come from research
conducted throughout the decade of the 1990s – research that, as we move into the new
millennium, increasingly involves "pictures" as encapsulated in computer displays involving
image maps, animations, video clips, hypermedia, and beyond. Indeed, the ease with which
instructors can add pictorial elements to Web-based course presentations will likely lead to their
proliferation in the future. In that regard, it has been noted that novice PowerPoint users often
present too much verbal information on the screen. Complementarily, we caution instructors of
the future not to flood learners with adjunct computer graphics, but rather to deploy them
judiciously. An interesting, yet-to-be-addressed, empirical question is whether the
"cyberstudents" (Wang & Newlin, 2000) of the new millennium will differ from the "liberstudents"
of the century past in their ability to process picture and text information comprehensively, and
In many ways, pictures – and guidelines for their effective use – transcend the medium.
Whether ancient cave painting or computer screen icon, pictures are part of the human
experience. Based on our review of the empirical literature, carefully constructed illustrations
continue to receive high marks as text adjuncts. Accordingly, and with an appreciative wink at
Paul and Art, the following closing tribute is in order: Pictures, we still praise thee after all these
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Russell N. Carney is in the Department of Psychology at Southwest Missouri State
University and Joel R. Levin is in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of
Arizona. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Russell N. Carney,
Department of Psychology, Southwest Missouri State University, Springfield, MO 65804.
Electronic mail may be sent via Internet to RussellCarney@smsu.edu.
1. The effect sizes and interpretations are based on Cohen's (1988) d, or the standardized-
difference between an experimental (here, picture) and control (here, no picture)
2. As an aside that is especially apropos for present purposes, we note that: (1) professional
journal articles typically consist of densely worded technical text; (2) such text often can
benefit from clarifying pictorial accompaniments; but (3) pictures, diagrams, and figures
take up precious journal space, adding to the cost of an already costly enterprise.
Nevertheless, it is ironic that one often reads research articles focusing on the effects of
text-accompanying illustrations without encountering even a single illustration of the
illustration used in the research.
3. Our characterizing Betrancourt and Bisseret's (1998) pictures as "organizational" is based
on the example illustration provided in the published article.
4. Although this article included six tables and three figures, no examples of the pictures
under study were provided. Inasmuch as the texts addressed science (biology) concepts,
we have included the study under the "interpretational" heading.
5. We have placed this research under the "interpretational" heading because one of the
illustrations is regarded as "interpretational" and all illustrations focused on science
6. Recall performance in the older adult sample was relatively low across the board.
Figure 1. Average effect size by picture function, across all units (from Levin, Anglin, &
Carney, 1987, p. 68).
Figure 2. Illustration of a brake system (from Mayer & Gallini, 1990, p. 716).
Figure 3. Transformational illustration designed to represent details about the ficticious city of
Belleview (from Dretzke, 1993, p. 494)
Figure 4. Pictorial "mnemonomy" designed to promote students' higher-order learning (from
Levin & Levin, 1990, p. 305).