What do you mean I can’t use a picture of my dog?


This little guy is Grayson. He is one of two of our Yorkies (total of 10 lbs between the two of them). I call him “Beast” in public, of course. He used to regularly show up in presentations as a way to include images and breaks. It turns out that he was hindering my audience’s learning.

Bartsch and Cobern (2003) found that students actually perform worse in memory and recognition tasks when the images used were non-relevant. This makes sense to me because as we are learning, we are actively trying to form connections and relate our new learning to prior knowledge. As cute as he is, Grayson (or pics of your family, latest travel, etc…) get in the way of processing. So, when presenting ideas and data, make the images relevant to the material being presented.

However, one of the things that has not been studied is whether the placement of the non-relevant image matters. It’s one thing to talk about membrane potential on a beach background, but it may be another to build in a break that incorporates personal “non-relevant” images that help build your connection to the audience.


Bartsch R, Cobern K. (2003) “Effectiveness of Powerpoint presentations in lectures.” Computers and Education. 41(1):77-86

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