Did you realize that we can process visuals 60,000 times faster than text?

There is something about that phrase that people just keep slapping it into presentations, blog posts about infographics, newspaper articles, published books about visual literacy. Google finds 195,000 references to it.

The problem is that it’s bogus. There is bubkas for anything to back it up beyond the sheer amount of times (3 times 60000) it is repeated as if it were fact. I have been on this case now coming up on 3 years. I am not letting go.

  • If It’s Repeated Enough (May 2012) where I trace the source back to a PDF at 3M that never really cites any research study.
  • The 60,000 Times Question Remains Unanswered (July 2012) I find a few more possible leads that all turn out to be dead ends. I offers a CASH PRIZE of $60 for definitive proof that this claim ins based on anything like science. Heck, I will take pseudo science.
  • Darren Kuropatwa pushed the source of the claim back to an August 1998 presentation by “Jenn Manalo, Sr. Product Specialist, 3M Corp.” He could not locate Jenn Manalo. I’ve asked my ds106 friend and colleague who works at 3M, Rochelle Lockridge, for any leads or anyone who might even know Jenn Manalo. Nada.
  • Tweet it, Blog It, Repeat It, 60,000 Times: Truthiness Achieved (April 2014) I shared the valiant effort by Dean Shareski to correct one so called Social Media “Scientist” who used it again, as “Fact”, making the assertion even tweetable in her blog post. When Dean pressed her one it, she got rather annoyed and said hearing it by other people in talks and in social media was enough proof for her.
  • In Clichés are Written 60,000 Times Faster Than Finding Sources I invoked signs of dogs pooping as visual you can process 60,000 times faster than my typo ridden text to comment on finding the assertion again made authoritatively.

Not only is the statement utterly unclear (what is exactly mean by “processing”?) and how is it measured so precisely– there is no actual research, no published scientific study to back it up.

One of the more common citations is to an excerpt from a book by Mike Parkinson “Billon Dollar Graphics”. So if you write a citation to that it looks legit. Except, Parkinson just states the line again, never providing a source to back up the claim. He cites earlier a study by Doug Vogel which sounds similar, but is not related:

In 1986, a 3M-sponsored study at the University of Minnesota School of Management found that presenters who use visual aids are 43% more effective in persuading audience members to take a desired course of action than presenters who don’t use visuals.

How does 43% more effective translate into 60,000 times faster? My math is rusty. And I spoke to the author of this paper; he says his research had nothing to do with the 60,000 times claim. But who am I? I never published a book about visual communications. I’m just a thug with a blog.

Just formatting a citation does not make it valid as a reference, especially if the source of that reference does not support the statement made, e.g.

This is worthless. And not just because the link is broken. If you actually find AND read this reference (the said URL above is dead) all it says is

Did you know that visual aids have been found to improve learning by up to 400 percent? Did you realize that we can process visuals 60,000 times faster than text? Would you guess that the average person only remembers about a fifth of what they hear?

These findings from behavioral research confirm our daily experience: we rely on all our senses to bring ideas and concepts to life.

This 3M citation is not a research paper; it is from a brochure meant to promote the effectiveness of visual information, because 3M products (like transparencies, post it notes) are used to create visual information.

Let’s take the first statement — “Did you know that visual aids have been found to improve learning by up to 400 percent?” my answer is “no”- I do not know that. Can you tell me where the proof is to back that up? The closest is the research that people keep sending me to bolster the 60,000 times claim— a University of Minnesota paper published in 1986 “Persuasion and the Role of Visual Presentation Support: The UM/3M Study”. And actually the conclusion in that paper is

Presentations using visual aids were found to be 43% MORE PERSUASIVE than unaided presentations.

I tracked down one of the paper’s original co-authors, Doug Vogel, and in his response he said he knew of no research at that time that backs up the second claim, the one I am after, the 60,000 times faster lie.

Isn’t 60,000 an oddly even number?

The third claim “Would you guess that the average person only remembers about a fifth of what they hear?” has already been shown to be a mis-interpretation of a graph, and is definitely not a valid claim.

Both this and the 60,000 times claim are in the Jenn Manalo presentation notes that Darren found (from 1998). That makes us think that perhaps her using of these so called research studies got repeated enough to be sort of truthful sounding.

Recently a blog commenter named Buster pushed this claim back to 1982

From a 1982 Business Week advertising section

From a 1982 Business Week advertising section

“people assimilate visual information about 60,000 times faster than they assimilate printed copy”

Again the claim made in print with no backing citable reference. But now we have someone named Philip Cooper, president of Computer Pictures Corporation making this claim in 1982.

I assembled the image above via scraps I could find in Google Books. But with the help of a Real Librarian, Alice tracked it down the June 28, 1982 issue of Business Week… and it is not even an article but a “Special Advertising Section” on “Computer Services: Management’s Answer to Data Overload”

Business Week 1982 June 28

Interestingly, the small number of credits I found online to Cooper for his 60,000 times faster statement are in Spanish. e.g.:

Según Philip Cooper, de President Computer Pictures Corporation “un 85% de la información que se almacena en el cerebro humano, proviene de fuentes visuales” y “las personas asimilamos la información visual 60,000 veces más rápido que la escrita”.

Who is Philip Cooper? He was a graduate of the MIT Sloan School of Management sold his company Computer Pictures Corporation to Cullinet Software in 1982 – then he started a company working on a company called Palladian Software, Inc. Sometime later he was a partner at Goldman Sachs.

In an MIT MS thesis on start up companies doing work in AI, I found a reference to Cooper’s on theses from his Masters Science degree from the MIT Sloan School of Management “Artificial Intelligence: A Heuristic Search for Commercial and Management Science Applications” I could find no indication there that Cooper worked in processing of visual information.

Somewhere I did find a mention (was it LinkedIn?) that Cooper was now a Senior Lecturer in Finance at the MIT Sloan School of Management. And there I found an email address. I wrote him in February 18, 2015:


I’m an educator trying to track down a statement attributed to you in the 1980s about processing of visual information.

For a few years I have been pursuing the source of an oft repeated statement in papers, books, blogs, presentations that “humans process visual information 60,000 times faster than text”


It is usually credited to 3M and in that source (a brochure) the source is only identified as un-named “behavioral research”

I’m writing because a reader of my blog found a reference you made, published in a 1982 Business Week article. This is is the portion I could find in Google Books, it has been repeated in a presentations and articles about visual information

From a 1982 Business Week advertising section

So can you shed light on what this 60,000 times statement is based on? I even tracked down your MS thesis, but could not find anything related.

I pursue this because I try to help people become better information literate; and this statement has been made so many times it is asserted as fact.

And I do have a $60 prize on the table for the person that leads me to the actual source.

Thanks for any information,


The only response response out of office message “I am away without access to email until 2/23”.

Still no word from the Dude. I did try to a message on the phone number I had found for him, I got an error message that Cooper’s voicemail box was full. What’s next, a trip to Cambridge? Is anyone willing to knock on the dude’s door and ask for the proof of the 60,000 times claim? There is a prize package of $60 sitting on the table.

This little bit does take it farther back than 3M.

Yet the re-iterations of this silly statement keep getting made, each re-affirmation micro-increasing the truthiness level. Because if you repeat it enough on the internet, it just seems that much more true. If you repeat sometime 60,000 times…

And then you get this kind of winner. a double bonus bogus claim combined into one sentence- It’s Dale’s Cone of Experience with a 60,000 times faster cherry on top:

60k and 20

It’s not like you have to provide a citation that the sky is blue, why bother to provide the resources to support obvious, accepted assertions like these?

You keep repeating this stuff. I keep looking, I keep digging. Somewhere there is an answer. It’s dialed back to 1982, and I am dialed in to follow.

Top / Featured Image Credits cc licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Leo Reynolds: http://flickr.com/photos/lwr/96228002

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as @cogdog@cosocial.ca


    1. hah! never mind. you had a link to the pdf snapshot right below. I’ll read to the end before going off on an ADHD scavenger hunt again…

  1. Alan – I appreciate you doing all that work to document this oft-repeated ‘statistic’. I too attempted to track down some actual peer-reviewed research on the number a couple years back and came up with the same results you did. In short, my thoughts are that it was made up to sell things to people.

  2. You’ve dug up holes all over the garden while the Emperor, wearing no clothes, looks on as the Queen of Hearts prepares to golf using a flamingo as a club … an equally fantastical scenario as the truthiness of 60000x.

    Awesome bit of digging here buddy!

    I’ll be in Boston in July. I’ll see if I can’t find some time to do some knocking on doors.

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