People are hopeless at drawing the Apple logo, and that tells us something about human memory

Apple’s iconic apple, featuring a bitten-off chunk, is one of the most recognisable logos in the world. And with the company’s ubiquitous products increasing in popularity, we’re exposed to the famous fruit image more frequently than ever. Yet a new study finds that while all this exposure provokes confidence in our memories for the logo, it fails to translate into accurate recall. Before reading on, test your own memory.

Adam Blake and his colleagues asked 85 undergrads – a mix of Apple and PC users – to draw the Apple logo from memory, and then scored their efforts for accuracy based on overall shape, the bite size and location, and the leaf shape and orientation. Only one participant drew the apple perfectly, and only seven with minimal errors; the remainder made numerous mistakes (Apple users performed marginally better than PC users). This was despite the participants expressing moderate confidence in their ability at the task after they’d finished their drawing (5.47 on a 10-point scale). The students weren’t completely lacking in insight – those who were more confident in their drawings tended to recall more correct features.

Student drawings of the Apple logo. Recall scores range 0–14. Confidence 0–10.
The central image was the only one to score perfect marks. From Blake et al 2015.

The students also performed a recognition task, in which they had to pick out the correct Apple logo from an array of eight similar versions that varied in terms of shape, and the positioning of the leaf and bite. Fewer than half the students picked the real Apple logo, despite having high confidence that they would be able to do so.

A second study was similar, but this time the students rated their confidence before and after completing the drawing task. The idea was to see if the experience of the task would give them greater insight into the true accuracy of their memories. They were very confident before they began drawing, but this had dipped by 55 per cent by the time they’d finished, showing that the experience did give them some insight (their actual performance was poor, similar to that of the students in the first study).

“People’s memory, even for extremely common objects, is much poorer than they believe it to be,” the researchers said, and the change in confidence after completing the drawings “shows that even a single recall trial can provide enough experiential knowledge to closer align confidence ratings with actual performance.”

Humans are capable of exceptional long-term visual memory. But these new findings show how frequent exposure does not always lead to deep, accurate visual memories. This is consistent with a now-classic study from the 70s that showed people were unable to recall the features on a penny.

Blake and his team said one explanation is that the over-exposure to, and availability of, the Apple logo stops people attending to its details (this makes sense from a functional perspective – why bother remembering something that’s ever present?). Consequently people form a “gist memory” for the logo (i.e. “it’s an apple”) and they end up drawing what it “should look like instead of what they remembered it to look like”. The researchers predict the same might be true for the coloured letters of the ubiquitous Google logo, and other highly familiar logos.

Ultimately, the research shows an interesting dissociation, said Blake and his team: “increased exposure increases familiarity and confidence, but does not reliably affect memory … attention and memory are not always tuned to remembering what we may think is memorable.”


Blake, A., Nazarian, M., & Castel, A. (2015). The Apple of the mind’s eye: Everyday attention, metamemory, and reconstructive memory for the Apple logo The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1-8 DOI: 10.1080/17470218.2014.1002798

–further reading–
Human memory capacity is mahusive!
Steve Jobs’ gift to cognitive science
Does owning an iPod make you happy?

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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