Exploring Two-Level Visual Mnemonic Compression

A Vi­sual Mnemonic

Mnemon­ics are tools for re­mem­ber­ing things. I haven’t read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righ­teous Mind for years, but I still have easy re­call of his cat­e­go­riza­tion of ideas that mo­ti­vate moral rea­son­ing. The mnemonic that has helped my re­call of this con­cept has stuck with me be­cause it has two lay­ers of com­pres­sion. Here are some icons I made, or­ga­nized in a grid—the most ba­sic ver­sion of the mnemonic:




In com­bi­na­tion, Haidt ar­gues that these six fla­vors ex­plain any­one’s sense of moral­ity. They are: harm (min­i­miz­ing harm), sanc­tity, au­thor­ity, loy­alty, fair­ness, and liberty.

Do the pic­tures make these con­cepts more mem­o­rable? Some­what: they’re more con­crete and have more char­ac­ter than the words alone. What re­ally helps about this di­a­gram is that the pic­tures were cho­sen in a way that can help re­call when they’re paired to­gether. Each row of iconog­ra­phy co­heres around a vi­sual con­cept, so if you can only re­mem­ber one of the items in the row, hope­fully you can fill in the other icon by prompt­ing with its pair. The dag­ger and the cross are both cross-shaped, the crown and the dog are both sym­bols from her­aldry, and the scales and the man­a­cles each them­selves con­tain pairs. If, when de­sign­ing a vi­sual mnemonic, you can give your vi­sual an in­ter­nal logic, it will be more likely to do its job effec­tively.

Re­duc­ing Heirarchy

The first mnemonic is de­cent enough, but the or­dered na­ture of the list im­plies in the or­der in the im­por­tance of the moral fla­vors the icons rep­re­sent. It’s right that harm should be first (this is foun­da­tional to most sys­tems of moral­ity), but it would be hard for me to rank the rest of the moral fla­vors. I moved the icons to a ring, equally em­pha­siz­ing all of them:


A mnemonic with more equal em­pha­sis on the com­po­nent el­e­ments of moral­ity. The pairings are still ap­par­ent in their ar­range­ment op­po­site one an­other in the di­a­gram.

Why Not More Data?

Here’s an­other ad­van­tage to mov­ing be­yond the table for­mat: this or­ga­ni­za­tion of the moral el­e­ments in a cir­cle en­ables the ad­di­tion of more data. Haidt de­scribes the ap­peals the Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic par­ties in the United States make two differ­ent moral el­e­ments in the chap­ter ti­tled “The Con­ser­va­tive Ad­van­tage.” Rather than tell you about it, I’ll add his opinions on these party po­si­tions to the graphic.



Haidt writes that “Repub­li­cans since Nixon have had a near-monopoly on ap­peals to loy­alty (par­tic­u­larly pa­tri­o­tism and mil­i­tary virtues) and au­thor­ity (in­clud­ing re­spect for par­ents, teach­ers, el­ders, and the po­lice, as well as for tra­di­tions). And af­ter they em­braced Chris­tian con­ser­va­tives dur­ing Ron­ald Rea­gan’s 1980 cam­paign and be­came the party of”fam­ily val­ues,” Repub­li­cans in­her­ited a pow­er­ful net­work of Chris­tian ideas about sanc­tity and sex­u­al­ity that al­lowed them to por­tray Democrats is the party of Sod­dom and Go­mor­rah.” Haidt doesn’t in­tro­duce liberty un­til later, but my read­ing gives a monopoly on that el­e­ment to Repub­li­cans, too.

When I pic­ture the mnemonic in my head, it doesn’t have words an­no­tat­ing the icons, so it looks some­thing like this, which I think is a lit­tle cleaner once you know what the icons rep­re­sent:



This ver­sion also has the benefit of get­ting around la­bel­ing the dag­ger as “harm,” which I think might con­fuse peo­ple be­cause ev­ery other el­e­ment in the graphic states some­thing de­sir­able rather than some­thing nega­tive.

In con­clu­sion, I hope this post illus­trates the po­ten­tial graph­ics have for com­press­ing data on mul­ti­ple lev­els to al­low for eas­ier re­call. If you want to re­mem­ber some­thing, draw­ing it might help, but your draw­ing will be more mem­o­rable if you can in­tro­duce more in­ter­nal struc­ture.

--This is a cross­post, with the origi­nal con­tent found on my blog.

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