Have you ever jokingly said to your friends: ‘If it wasn’t on Instagram, did it really happen?’
According to new research the truth might not be so far off.
A study published in June in the journal Psychological Science suggests that taking a photograph of something may help us to remember the visual aspects of the moment better, even if we never even look at the image ever again.
The study involved researchers inviting 294 participants to walk around a museum exhibit of Etruscan (ancient Italian) artifacts while listening to an audio guide. Half of the volunteers were given cameras and instructed to take at least ten photos during the tour.
At the end of the experience, all of the participants were asked to answer a series of multiple-choice questions about the artifacts they’d seen. The research found that participants who took photographs during the tour recognized almost seven percent more objects than those who didn’t.
This study plays on the age old question of whether taking photographs improves or hinders experiences and isn’t the first of its kind.
In 2014, Linda Henkel, a psychologist at Fairfield University in Connecticut, published a similar study in the journal asking 27 participants to visit a museum and take photos of half of the objects.
However, unlike the more recent study, Henkel found that participants who didn’t take photographs of the objects were more likely to remember them than those who did – a phenomenon which she believes suggests the act of taking a photograph triggers people to forget what they’ve seen, as they believe they don’t need to retain the the information as it’s been ‘saved’ elsewhere.
Henkel’s theory on photography and memory echoes that of what many psychologists refer to as ‘cognitive offloading’, in which it is thought our brains look for other ways of lessening the amount they needs to remember or process, often in the form of technology and apps.
But rather than offloading, Kristin Diehl, a consumer psychologist at the University of Southern California and one of the authors of the research from June, argues that the desire to capture meaningful or interesting moments (rather than mundane daily tasks written on a post-in note, for example) might encourage us to look more carefully at visual details while we photograph them, and therefore help us to remember them later on.
This theory is backed up by the most recent study which found that even when participants…