Use pictures when you teach, part 2


A study conducted in California looked at computer password recall.3 Most people pick really terrible passwords for their online accounts. In way too many cases, if you know even a little bit about a person you can guess his or her passwords. For instance, say you have a friend, Bob, who really likes wine. It might only take you a few tries to uncover his password, “merlot.” But how easily would you arrive at “[email protected]”? Obviously, the latter is the better choice. Only Bob is not only more likely to use the former, he’ll probably also use it on every one of his accounts (e-mail, credit cards, banking, Facebook, and so forth). Researchers in this study looked at a few different ways of helping people develop and remember more complex, secure passwords. Study subjects were asked to develop a number of better passwords (they had to be at least eight characters in length and have at least an uppercase and lowercase letter, a digit, and a special character).

This type of password might seem difficult to remember, but subjects were also given memory-assisting tools including image-based and text-based mnemonic techniques. For the image-based mnemonics, subjects were taught how to look at a picture, pull out personal details, and turn those details into a password. For example, a woman with a picture of her boyfriend might look at it and say, “I date Matt.” From there she can create a password such as [email protected] That’s a pretty uncrackable password that would also be really easy for her to remember (unless, of course, she dumps Matt anytime soon). You can probably already guess where this is headed. The image-based mnemonic group significantly outperformed the text-based mnemonic group.

 Their passwords were more complex, and thus less crackable, and whether after 10 minutes or a week, they took less time to remember their passwords. They also needed fewer attempts to remember them and had fewer forgotten passwords. So what do we need to know here? Basically that animation—imagery, visuals, pictures, images, and the like—is essential to helping us remember and process information. If you want a goal indelibly seared into your brain, so vibrantly alive in the forefront of your mind that you can’t possibly push it aside or forget about it, you need to animate it. Wherever possible, take advantage of the power of pictures.


Hard Goals : The Secret to Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (Mark Murphy)