Taking Pictures May Lead To Poor Memory Recall And Retention


Even with the advent of digital cameras, people who take photographs are likely to suffer from poor memory recall and retention than those who would rather observe.

An extended study published in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition found that avid photographers tend to pay less attention to the experience of seeing things when they use their cameras.

Study authors Julia Soares and Benjamin Storm from the University of California hypothesized that one possible reason of poor memory recall is that photographers expect to store memory of an event into a digital device. The researchers referred to this phenomenon as offloading organic memory.

"According to the offloading hypothesis, taking photos allows people to offload organic memory onto the camera's prosthetic memory, which they can rely upon to 'remember' for them," Soares and Storm reported in their paper.

Testing The Hypothesis

To test their hypothesis, Soares and Storm divided their study participants into two groups. The first group was asked to take photos using Snapchat, while the participants of the second group immediately deleted photos after taking them.

Both groups had no future access to saved photos. However, the authors noted significant photo-taking impairments even if the participants did not expect to have future access to the photos. Therefore, it was concluded that explicit memory cannot be directly associated with memory impairment.

Instead, the researchers concluded that poor recall is more likely due to a memory disruption that occurs when a person documents an event through photographs.

Replicating The Study

Soares and Storm's study takes after a research conducted by Linda Henkel published in the February 2014 issue of the journal Psychological Science, where participants were measured based on their transactive memory.

Transactive memory refers to a shared system where a person relies on his partner to remember things. In Henkel's experiment, at least 50 undergraduates were invited to painting gallery.

One group took photos of the painting using their smartphone and then spent another 15 seconds looking at the painting. The other group took photos of the painting and then immediately deleted it.

After 10 minutes, the participants were asked to answer a multiple-choice questionnaire based on how they remembered the paintings. The results showed lower scores in individuals who photographed the image.

Henkel's findings are consistent with Soares and Storm's explanation that the offloading process is not the direct cause of disadvantaged memory. Rather, the person taking the photo is disengaged from absorbing the stimulus because he might be preoccupied with operating the camera.

"It may be relevant that people who take photographs at events report afterwards feeling more immersed in the experience, which would tally more with this explanation than the disengagement-due-to-fiddling idea," The British Psychological Society reported.

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