Numerous studies have shown that the gist in photorealistic pictures of scenes is extracted after very short presentation times. So far, the investigation of gist extraction has been limited to pictures of scenes. The present study investigated whether the gist in pictures of causal systems, which are typically used as instructional material, is extracted as fast as the gist in pictures of scenes, and whether more than just the gist is rapidly extracted from a causal system (i.e., information concerning its details and functioning). Schematic and photorealistic pictures of scenes and causal systems were presented to subjects (N = 24) at different presentation times. Results showed that the gist in causal systems is extracted as fast as in scenes, and that an initial understanding of the functioning of schematic causal systems is also rapidly acquired. Results are discussed in the light of their implications for learning from text and pictures.