A memory is a treasured piece of our personal experience that’s often endangered by the tool that’s supposed to help us capture those memories – digital cameras. According to recent research from Psychologist Linda Henkel of Fairfield University, digital cameras are actually diminishing our ability to remember things, just like digital phones are helping us to forget phone numbers.
In her museum experience, Henkel was able to test the memory of museum goers by giving them a list of artifacts and shoot digital cameras. Those who photographed the entire painting was less likely to remember the work of art, but those who shot detailed photos were more likely to remember a lot about the photography subject.
While we are not surprised that photography doesn’t actually help our brain remember details about objects and events, it’s surprising that the act of finding a detailed “shot” of a painting can actually enhance our memory of all the details.
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.
While this study focused on digital cameras, it doesn’t actually indicate that the same effects are applicable to smartphones that use touchscreen technology. It’s possible that the act of actually touching the image on the screen prior to taking the photo may be conducive to memory.
Of course, to remember those missing moments, all it takes is some time to look at those thousands of images that the camera can take in a day – or if you’re interested in using your brain efficiently, take this bit of advice from Einstein to heart:
Never memorize what you can look up in a book.
Perhaps he knew about Facebook?