Do most people retain spoken or read information better?

Google is being unhelpful over this question, because every time I ask it if comprehension is better for read or heard information, I get back a bunch of links about helping people with reading comprehension problems.

I guess ‘how many people in society have reading comprehension problems?’ is a partial answer to my question but what I’m really interested in is ‘among people who don’t have reason to believe they have a problem, is there evidence that information is retained better through one of these methods rather than the other?’

Real scientific studies in particular gratefully received :wink:

I think the answer is ‘no’, neither of those methods is better than the other in general, assuming typical hearing and reading ability.

I have no idea which is better for most people; but I personally retain read information much better than spoken information.

I do too! Which is why I’m interested in the question. I observe people sharing around video clips of interesting ideas on Facebook- it’s torturous to me to have to sit through these things waiting for the meat to sloooowly come out but clearly the people who share them don’t feel like that. So I’d like to figure out if they’re weird or I am!

And when it does, my attention’s gone elsewhere at that moment, and by the time I yank it back I’ve missed the point.

Plus which, even if I did hear and note at the time, say, item 3 in a list, it may have gone straight out of my head again while I was concentrating on not missing item 4 or 5.

According to this cite about 65% of the population are visual learners 30% are auditory and 5% are kinitethic.

When I was in school I did best listening to the teacher rather than reading the textbook which is the main reason I’d like to go get an advanced degree rather teaching myself I’ll pick it up better.

Same here! The fascinating thing to me is that although I retain written information better, it just seems to me that humans would retain spoken information better given how recently writing appeared in our species’ tenure.

I suggest that the terms need to be defined more clearly.

“Spoken” could mean things that I spoke myself, or that someone else spoke and I passively heard. Similarly, “read” could mean things that I simply scanned with my eyes, or that I read aloud.

My totally subjective and unscientific opinion is that the scanning with one’s eyes is the worst of these, because of the likelihood that one will pass over some words or phrases too quickly and not even bother to think about them, let alone comprehend or remember them. It is simply too easy to fool oneself into thinking that he really read it carefully.

Conversely, I feel that when one enunciates the words personally, the effort to do so increases the odds that he is actually thinking about what he is saying.

Back when I was teaching, I kept this in mind. I had a student come to me once who complained that he couldn’t copy the notes off the overhead/whiteboard and listen to what I was saying at the same time.

I reassured him that there was no reason to worry about that. Everything that was on the overhead/whiteboard was also spoken. Conversely, I didn’t say anything that was important that wasn’t also on the board.

The only reason I did both was because of different learning styles.

P.S. I then covered kinesthetic/hands-on learning (to the extent possible) by having students do problems in class, along with hands-on labs.

P.P.S. I absorb and retain information visually infinitely better than auditory. I am almost learning-disabled when it comes to auditory learning (but above-average for visual learning). If someone gives me directions verbally, all I’ll remember is the last direction (“…and then you’ll see the building on your left.) :roll_eyes:

I once got directions to a hotel (pre-internet) by listening to a recording on the phone. I had to call the phone number a dozen times, each time getting the next direction so that I could write them all down.

I would guess that spoken information is retained better, because it has other things such as the person’s tone of voice, face expression, etc. that help to imprint it in memory.

Textbook: “Don’t keep oily rags together in the attic, that can cause spontaneous combustion.” OK, but rather dry and clinical.

Person screaming at you: “DON’T KEEP OILY RAGS LIKE THAT! IT WILL START A FIRE!” Much more memorable.

AIUI, spoken information in pre-literate cultures gets transmitted very often in rhythmic, repetitive fashion and/or in stories with a plot, and often told over and over. That seems to me to imply that humans are generally pretty bad at remembering things said to them once or twice in ordinary modern language.

“Scanning” a conversation with my ears, for me at least, carries all of those disadvantages plus the one that I can’t pause and think about what’s just been said without losing track of what’s being said at the moment. If I’m reading, the text stays there; a moment’s inattention, whether it’s due to the cat or to an implication of something I just read, doesn’t mean that I miss the next piece of information.

I do think that either repeating the information out loud oneself, or writing it down oneself, improves retention. But very few people want to stop talking every few words in order to have me repeat, probably several times over, what they just said.

Very very true. My main point (which I should have stressed) is for the person studying a textbook: If you have the time, it is much better to read out loud than to just look at the page.

[quote=“Oredigger77, post:6, topic:926000, full:true”]
According to this cite about 65% of the population are visual learners 30% are auditory and 5% are kinitethic.
[/quote]Yes, like most things, it varies by person. I’ve seen this info before (though the exact figures vary a bit between citations).

I’ve also seen assertions that you can determine which group a person belongs to by the way they confirm info:

  • “I see what you mean”
  • “I hear what you’re saying”
  • “I feel your pain, man”
    (Don’t know how accurate that is, though.)

While this is not a direct answer to your question, a quick search on “comparing forms of memory visual and audio” produced this link:

I have only scanned the article quickly, but it suggests that visual information is stored much more reliably than auditory information.

This matches my experience, as others have noted, I have an excellent memory for written information, but an annoyingly poor memory for spoken information.

One of the best sources of relaying information I ever heard was a History professor I had. He was a master storyteller and his lectures were just a joy to sit through. In combination with his oral storytelling if he was introducing a place or name or date he would write it on the blackboard as he introduced it.
I never took any detailed notes in the class because I could just absorb everything he said and retain it until the exams.

I think that one’s cite-of-the-thread so far. Yes, it’s talking about something slightly different - I’d still like to see if anyone’s compared retention of words seen versus words read - but it’s a good starting point.

I think this probably introduces a good tangential point too - as mentioned by @thorny_locust above, oral cultures have actual techniques that they use to make their information memorable. So perhaps what I’m complaining about is partially that a lot of people who provide information in video form don’t actually know about those techniques or use them.

For instance, storytelling techniques for factual information involve inventing anthropomorphized characters for non-human objects or concepts, which helps retain people’s interest for the next nugget of actual fact.

Comparison of oral and computerized versions of the word memory test

“The data generally support equivalency of the orally administered version and the computerized version of the WMT effort measures in a mixed outpatient sample.”

But the WMT is, I think, a short-term memory test.

Everything I was ever taught about teaching emphasized “See it, Hear it, Write it” – I remember being quoted research that showed multi-modal teaching gave better retention than single-mode teaching. So for our teachers, the question if seeing would be better or worse than hearing, was moot.

I remember almost nothing of what I hear. Spoken directions are useless to me. I have to read it, and then write it down. Then I remember it.

Yes: When you read something, you control the speed at which you absorb the information, but when you listen, you’re at the mercy of the speaker, and if they’re talking too fast or too slow it can make it harder to pay attention and absorb the information.

Fortunately, it’s becoming increasingly common for the viewer/listener of a video or audio clip to be able to control the playback speed.