Does our reliance on computers lead to us remembering less? There are studies that suggest there’s definitely a link. New, even stranger research suggests the more people take pictures, the less they remember about the actual moment they’re capturing. There’s no scientific term yet associated with the phenomena, though there’s certainly some sort of link to impairment. Better cut back on all that Instagramming this holiday!
Fairfield University psychologist Linda Henkel refers to it as the “photo-taking-impairment effect,” which loosely describes someone with greater access to pictures as a person less inclined to remember that moment itself. “You’re just kind of mentally discounting it, thinking, ‘Well, the camera’s got it,’” Henkel told Co.Design. The same applies to people who think a computer will save their information; they’re less inclined to actually recall said information.
Henkel compiled her data from a study conducted at the Bellarmine Museum of Art on Fairfield’s campus, which split participants into three groups: one that carried a camera around but didn’t snap any photos, one that snapped photos from a wider perspective, and one that zoomed in on specific details. Henkel’s data revealed that test participants who took pictures were less accurate when recalling visual details of museum exhibits. “Simply put, they took the picture and missed the moment,” Co.Design wrote.
Some people essentially dismiss what’s happening in front of them when they know their camera will simply document the moment. You still have the wherewithal to snap an image, but you might miss out on the intangibles because you’re staring at a real-time moment through a digital screen. “The facility of digital photography may well come at the cost of cognitive engagement,” the study concludes.
Oddly, participants recalled details they zoomed in on when snapping pictures, which was quite the opposite when taking pictures at a wider angle. Henkel’s data actually showed that participants actually remembered more details about a specific object that they hadn’t zoomed in on. So, for example, a participant could have been asked to zoom in on a statue’s shield, but still vividly remember what was on the statue’s head. Henkel chalked it up to the zooming triggering a different cognitive process.
Henkel believes this “photo-taking-impairment effect” affects smartphone owners too, though Co.Design pointed to research suggesting touchscreen actually heighten a user’s sense of being in the moment; Co.Design also references research that claims viewing photographs later on helps recover memories.
“I think if people were more mindfully photographing things, if maybe they were making fewer photo with more choice and interaction with these things, that’s where you’d not see the photos impairing you,” Henkel said.