Why are Captions on Photos More Memorable?

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Which photo and caption above is more engaging and memorable?  

Most people find the one on the left more engaging and memorable.  In the rest of this blog I take a quick look at relevant scientific theories & research to try and explain this.

The Gestalt Principles of Grouping describe how people perceive and process visual information. They were developed back in the 1920s by a group of German psychologists, following the lead of their founder Max Wertheimer.

The origin of the word Gestalt is German / Austrian, and it simply means: shape, form, or the whole. It is often stated in this theory that, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

The Gestalt Principle of Proximity states that when two objects are grouped together physically it establishes a relationship or common bond. The Spatial Continuity Principle shows increased memory retention when text is placed on or next to pictures.  Richard Mayer conducted a set of studies supporting this that showed a 68% increase in memory retention.  By placing the text on the photo, your brain co-associates the text more closely with the photo. 

The Gestalt Principle of Similarity states that when two objects are similar such as their color they are naturally grouped within the viewer’s mind.  Use of color has been shown to increase viewers attention and memory retention through numerous studies.  Color has also been shown to increase brand recognition by up to 80%.  Thus by setting the text to color that matches or is harmonious with the photo, the viewer naturally co-associates text with the photo making it more memorable.  

This leads us to left and right brain perception.  The left brain is stronger at recognizing language, words and logic while the right brain is better at recognizing images, faces and colors.  The Dual-coding theory supports this and has shown that memory is enhanced when words are associated with pictures.  By putting the caption on the photo with a color that matches and is harmonious with a photo, the left side of the brain processes the text, while the right side processes the images simultaneously and then your brain co-associates them.  This results in a more memorable and engaging captioned image as shown above on the left.

The photo on the left was created by CaptionMagic, which is a free iPhone app that will automatically find matching harmonious colors for your caption as well as the best positions on your photo.

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