Cameras Can Affect Your Memory (In Good and Not-So-Good Ways)

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I've seen a lot of sensational headlines about a study that appeared on Psychological Science's website. They included:

  • Taking Photographs Weakens Memories, Psychological Study Finds
  • Is The Camera Destroying Our Memory?
  • Constantly Taking Photographs STOPS Our Brains Remembering What Happened

The headlines are the result of a study by Linda A. Henkel, Professor of Psychology at Fairfield University, titled "The Influence of Taking Photos on Memory for a Museum Tour."
 
Her findings indicated that photographing objects can have an effect on what is remembered about them. Her abstract states:

"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."

In other words, subjects who photographed museum pieces as a whole did not remember the pieces as well as those who were cameraless. However, those who zoomed in on the pieces and captured details seemed to remember the artwork as well as test subjects who didn't carry a camera.
 
But from my own personal experience, pictures tend to bring back a flood of memories that I wouldn't have been able to recall otherwise. Truth is, I have a terrible memory. I have trouble remembering what I had for lunch yesterday let alone things I did a year or more ago.
 
But when I see a photos taken throughout my life, I'm instantly taken back to that exact place and time. With the photo in hand (or on the screen, as it may be), memories wash over me with ease and I can recall details I thought I never knew had been tucked away in my memory (and not just the details illustrated by the photo). I think most people can identify with that.
 
So maybe we shouldn't let one study with a very narrow set of circumstances tarnish how we perceive cameras and how they can affect our lives. As for me, cameras have done so much more to enrich my memory (and for that matter – my life) than they have ever taken away from it. [Sean]
 
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Posted: 12/11/2013 8:46:20 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
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