The visual superiority effect: Retention of audiovisual messages

Date of Completion

January 1998


Psychology, Cognitive|Mass Communications




This study compared not one medium with another, such as radio to television, but rather one channel to another (audio to visual) in an integrated audiovisual format. The majority of channel comparisons that have been undertaken show memory and comprehension for visual information to be superior to audio. In a few studies, this visual superiority trend has not been reported, and in some cases may have been reversed. The primary goal of this study was to determine whether modality differences could be measured on the recall of audio and visual information. In addition, the effect of action on stated and implied information and comprehension in both modalities was tested. A two minute video was produced, adapted from an instructional video on tennis. Viewers were screened to eliminate those with knowledge of the physics of tennis, constituting a purposive (non random) sample, consisting of 80 undergraduate students, ranging from freshmen to senior level. Participation took place as a naturally occurring part of a class. After viewing the tennis video, they were given a multiple-choice test consisting of 32 questions in the following categories based on visual and audio information: Visual hi-action (audio-lo), visual lo-action (audio-hi), both hi, and both lo. Questions were based on either stated or implied information, equally distributed. Paired t-tests were used to analyze channel differences. In contrast to studies testing children using mostly the story format, an overall superiority of the audio over the visual was indicated, restricted to fragmented, isolated facts such as news broadcasts. It is concluded that under the conditions of this study, information contained in the audio portion of an audiovisual presentation is better comprehended and retained. Implications for audiovisual instruction are explored. ^