Taking photographs ruins the memory, research finds11/12/2013 16:02
Taking a picture for posterity at a birthday, wedding or concert may harm our ability to remember the event fully, researchers believe in a phenomenon known as 'photo-taking impairment effect'
But our obsession with recording every detail of our happiest moments could be damaging our ability to remember them, according to new research.
A study has shown that taking pictures rather than concentrating fully on the events in front of us prevents memories taking hold.
Dr Linda Henkel, from Fairfield University, Connecticut, described it as the "photo-taking impairment effect".
She said: "People so often whip out their cameras almost mindlessly to capture a moment, to the point that they are missing what is happening right in front of them.
"When people rely on technology to remember for them - counting on the camera to record the event and thus not needing to attend to it fully themselves - it can have a negative impact on how well they remember their experiences."
Dr Henkel and her team carried out an experiment in a museum, to learn if taking pictures of the exhibits was hindering the ability of visitors to remember what they had seen.
A group of university students were led on a tour at the Bellarmine Museum of Art at Fairfield University and asked to either photograph or try and remember objects on display.
The next day their memory was tested.
The results showed that people were less accurate in recognising the objects they had photographed compared to those they had only looked at.
It was found that their memory of detail for the objects they had photographed was poorer.
Musicians including Beyonce, Prince and Bjork, have all insisted on photo bans at their performances claiming cameras detract from the performance.
Dr Henkel is currently investigating whether the content of a photo, such as whether you are in it, affects memory.
She also wants to explore whether actively choosing what to photograph might influence what we remember.
A second study by thet eam replicated these findings, but it also presented an interesting twist: Taking a photograph of a specific detail on the object by zooming in on it with the camera seemed to preserve memory for the object, not just for the part that was zoomed in on but also for the part that was out of frame.
"These results show how the 'mind's eye' and the camera's eye are not the same," says Henkel.
Henkel's lab is currently investigating whether the content of a photo, such as whether you are in it, affects later memory. She is also researching whether actively choosing what to photograph might influence what we remember.
"This study was carefully controlled, so participants were directed to take pictures of particular objects and not others, but in everyday life people take photos of things that are important to them, that are meaningful, that they want to remember."
Previous research suggests that reviewing photos we have taken does help us remember the objects, but only if we take the time.
"Research has suggested that the sheer volume and lack of organisation of digital photos for personal memories discourages many people from accessing and reminiscing about them.
"In order to remember, we have to access and interact with the photos, rather than just amass them," said Dr Henkel.
The study is published in the journal Psychological Science.