Understanding the influence of literacy on consumer memory: The role of pictorial elements

Madhubalan Viswanathan, Carlos J. Torelli, Lan Xia, Roland Gau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


This research examines the relationship between literacy and consumer memory. The effects of a variety of stimuli at exposure (i.e., brand names, brand signatures, and products in usage) on memory (i.e., recognition, stem-completion tasks) were examined for a range of literacy. In a series of experiments, we find that the use of pictorial representations of brands (i.e., brand signatures) results in superior brand memory for individuals with lower literacy levels when compared to those at higher literacy levels. This effect is shown to occur not due to pictorial elements per se, but due to pictorial elements with a 1-to-1 correspondence with reality, i.e., which match the form in which they were originally encoded in memory. Moreover, this effect does not persist with stimulus-rich pictures of brands in usage, pointing to boundary conditions with the use of pictorial information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)389-402
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Consumer Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Terry Childers and Angela Lee for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of the paper. They especially thank David Adcock, John Muirhead, Mark Nelson, Tom Szott, Martha Bailey-Gaydos, Carol Belber, Peggy Buck, JoAnn Eizinger, Nina Heckman, Diane Joy, Sheri Langendorf, Debbie McDermott, Ellen McDowell, Christine Muehling, Deborah Schlomann, and Greg Vankoevering for their valuable support of the data collection. This research was supported by a grant to the first author from the National Science Foundation, Washington, DC, a Transformative Consumer Research grant, Association for Consumer Research, and the Campus Research Board and the College of Business, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0214615. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Copyright 2009 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Functional literacy
  • Low-literacy
  • Memory

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