Taking photos reduces our capability to remember,
and perhaps seenthis too
The camera on the smartphones of today allow people to take photos of everything they see, like, and want to share, sometimes with the motivation to better remember one’s life.
Studies show that paradoxally, this may have the opposite effect compared to people who spend the time of observing instead of photographing.
It makes sense, as people tend to snap a quick shot of something they like, thinking they have stored it away for later reference; but the truth is that doing so reduces the likelihood they will actually really remember details of what they have stored away.
This study is interesting because in this FOMO world where we are overloaded with information, we want to make sure we “remember” everything we came across and many of us here on seenthis.net expose themselves to the same consequence of the study: we quickly archive links whose contents we have skimmed and deemed interesting, thinking we have stored it somewhere in our external memory (seenthis), but chances are we will forget. We will just remember we read something about something, but we reduce the longer term recollection of the actual contents of what we read.
The Influence of Taking Photos on Memory for a Museum Tour
Linda A. Henkel, Fairfield University, December 2013
Two studies examined whether photographing objects impacts what is remembered about them. Participants were led on a guided tour of an art museum and were directed to observe some objects and to photograph others. Results showed a photo-taking-impairment effect: If participants took a photo of each object as a whole, they remembered fewer objects and remembered fewer details about the objects and the objects’ locations in the museum than if they instead only observed the objects and did not photograph them. However, when participants zoomed in to photograph a specific part of the object, their subsequent recognition and detail memory was not impaired, and, in fact, memory for features that were not zoomed in on was just as strong as memory for features that were zoomed in on. This finding highlights key differences between people’s memory and the camera’s “memory” and suggests that the additional attentional and cognitive processes engaged by this focused activity can eliminate the photo-taking-impairment effect.
People report that they take photographs and record videos as a way to remember events in their lives. [...] On the other hand, taking photos may have a detrimental impact on memory. Photographing a scene may divide one’s attention, similar to when people multitask by using cell phones while driving or walking or laptop computers while learning material. People may also pay less attention to a scene if they take photos, counting on the external device of the camera to “remember” for them, as suggested by research showing that people were less likely to remember information if they expected to have future access to it (e.g., on an external storage device, such as a computer, or via the Internet ;
Linda A. Henkel: