Nav: Home

Taking photos of experiences boosts visual memory, impairs auditory memory

June 26, 2017

A quick glance at any social media platform will tell you that people love taking photos of their experiences - whether they're lying on the beach, touring a museum, or just waiting in line at the grocery store. New research shows that choosing to take photos may actually help us remember the visual details of our encounters.

The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"Our research is novel because it shows that photo-taking itself improves memory for visual aspects of an experience but can hurt memory for nonvisual aspects, like auditory details," the authors say.

This research was conducted by Alixandra Barasch (New York University Stern School of Business), Kristin Diehl (USC Marshall School of Business), Jackie Silverman (The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania), and Gal Zauberman (Yale School of Management).

Previous research has suggested that being able to take photographs or consult the Internet may allow us to outsource our memory, freeing up cognitive resources but potentially impairing our ability to remember.

Barasch, Diehl, Silverman, and Zauberman hypothesized that this offloading effect may hold for factual information, but might not apply when it comes to the experiences we deliberately choose to photograph.

"People take photos specifically to remember these experiences, whether it's a fun dinner with friends, a sightseeing tour, or something else," they argue.

Of course, the reality is that most of the photos we take will probably never get a second glance. The researchers wondered: How well do we remember the experiences we photograph if we never revisit the photos? Furthermore, does taking photos affect memory for what we saw differently than for what we heard?

In one experiment, the researchers had 294 participants tour a real-life museum exhibit of Etruscan artifacts. The participants stashed their belongings before starting the tour but some were allowed to keep a camera on them. Those with a camera could photograph anything they wanted in the exhibit and were told to take at least 10 photos. As the participants toured the exhibit, they listened to an accompanying audio guide.

At the end of the tour, they answered multiple-choice questions asking them to identify objects they had seen or complete factual statements from the audio guide.

The results showed that those who took photos visually recognized more of the objects compared with those who didn't have a camera. But they also remembered less auditory information than their camera-less peers.

These findings provided evidence that taking pictures can enhance visual memory. To test their hypotheses in a more controlled environment, the researchers designed a virtual art-gallery tour. Participants navigated through the gallery on screen as they would in real life and some were able to take pictures of what they saw on screen by clicking an on-screen button.

Again, participants who were able to take pictures were better at recognizing what they saw and worse at remembering what they heard, compared to those who couldn't take pictures.

When the researchers examined visual memory for specific objects, they found that participants who were able to take pictures performed better on visual memory tasks regardless of whether the objects in question were the most or least photographed. Photo-takers even had better visual memory for aspects of the exhibit they didn't photograph, compared with participants who weren't able to take pictures.

"These findings suggest that having a camera changes how people approach an experience in a fundamental way," the authors say. "Even when people don't take a photo of a particular object, like a sculpture, but have a camera with them and the intention to take photos, they remember that sculpture better than people who did not have a camera with them."

Pooling findings from all four studies, the researchers found that taking photos had a reliably positive effect on visual memory and a smaller but reliable negative effect on auditory memory.

Even participants who thought their photos would be deleted and those who were instructed to "mentally take a photo" showed enhanced visual memory and impaired auditory memory relative to participants who couldn't take pictures.

Together, these experiments suggest that photographing our experiences doesn't outsource our memory so much as it focuses it, funneling our attention toward visual aspects of our experiences and away from others.
-end-
This work was supported by a Marketing Science Institute research grant given to K. Diehl and G. Zauberman.

All data and many of the materials have been made publicly available via the Open Science Framework. The complete Open Practices Disclosure for this article is available online. This article has received the badge for Open Data.

For more information about this study, please contact:

Alix Barasch, abarasch@stern.nyu.edu
Kristin Diehl, kdiehl@marshall.usc.edu
Jackie Silverman, jasilv@wharton.upenn.edu
Gal Zauberman, gal.zauberman@yale.edu

The article abstract is available online at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956797617694868

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article "Photographic Memory: The Effects of Volitional Photo Taking on Memory for Visual and Auditory Aspects of an Experience " and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or amikulak@psychologicalscience.org.

Association for Psychological Science

Related Memory Articles:

Memory boost with just one look
HRL Laboratories, LLC, researchers have published results showing that targeted transcranial electrical stimulation during slow-wave sleep can improve metamemories of specific episodes by 20% after only one viewing of the episode, compared to controls.
VR is not suited to visual memory?!
Toyohashi university of technology researcher and a research team at Tokyo Denki University have found that virtual reality (VR) may interfere with visual memory.
The genetic signature of memory
Despite their importance in memory, the human cortex and subcortex display a distinct collection of 'gene signatures.' The work recently published in eNeuro increases our understanding of how the brain creates memories and identifies potential genes for further investigation.
How long does memory last? For shape memory alloys, the longer the better
Scientists captured live action details of the phase transitions of shape memory alloys, giving them a better idea how to improve their properties for applications.
A NEAT discovery about memory
UAB researchers say over expression of NEAT1, an noncoding RNA, appears to diminish the ability of older brains to form memories.
Molecular memory can be used to increase the memory capacity of hard disks
Researchers at the University of Jyväskylä have taken part in an international British-Finnish-Chinese collaboration where the first molecule capable of remembering the direction of a magnetic above liquid nitrogen temperatures has been prepared and characterized.
Memory transferred between snails
Memories can be transferred between organisms by extracting ribonucleic acid (RNA) from a trained animal and injecting it into an untrained animal, as demonstrated in a study of sea snails published in eNeuro.
An immunological memory in the brain
Inflammatory reactions can change the brain's immune cells in the long term -- meaning that these cells have an 'immunological memory.' This memory may influence the progression of neurological disorders that occur later in life, and is therefore a previously unknown factor that could influence the severity of these diseases.
Anxiety can help your memory
Anxiety can help people to remember things, a study from the University of Waterloo has found.
Pores with a memory
Whether for separation processes, photovoltaics, catalysis, or electronics, porous polymer membranes are needed in many fields.
More Memory News and Memory Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.