Social media doesn’t help build memory, according to new research from NYU Stern Professor Tom Meyvis. Alongside USC Professor (and Stern Ph.D.) Stephanie Tully, who wrote about their work in Quartz, the research specifically found that the frequency and quality of remembered experiences depended on physical memorabilia, rather than just digital ones.
In a study entitled, “Forgetting to Remember Our Experiences: People Overestimate How Much They Will Retrospect About Personal Events,” Mevvis and Tully investigated “how people’s expectations of how often they would recall an experience compared to how often they actually did recall it.”
The researchers discovered that spontaneous recall of adventures and celebrations increased “when they had either purchased items related to the experience or printed out photographs that were readily viewable.”
The reason being, Tully believes, is that the process of acquiring things like a photo are so much easier now that the human brain does not dwell on it as much.
“Of course, it’s easy to scroll through photos of sunsets and cozy woodland cabins on Instagram any old time. But in our study, we found that having digital photos was not as effective as physical photos. In fact, the ease of instantaneously sharing digital photos may inhibit how often we talk about our experiences. Back in the old days, we’d wait until we finished a roll of film and then bring it to the store to get printed. So waiting for the pictures kept the experience top of mind. Then, we’d take the pictures around to our friends one by one (or group by group) and get to share our experience over and over again. Now, we simply post it on social media once and we’re done.”
In one study, Mevvis and Tully interviewed 28 MBA students who had recently returned from an African Spring Break Safari adventure. The participants were asked to estimate “how many times they would talk about the trip and look at pictures of it in the next two months.”
When the researchers revisited the participants, it came as a surprise that they hardly reminisced about the trip at all. It turns out in order to keep an experience alive, “the mementos need to be noticed regularly to produce sustained accessibility of the experience.”
The duo’s findings are fairly similar to the recent work of NYU Stern Professor Alixandra Barasch, who’s study “Photographic Memory: The Effects of Volitional Photo Taking on Memory for Visual and Auditory Aspects of an Experience,” was published in Psychological Science. Barasch and her co-authors Kristin Diehl, Jackie Silverman, and Gal Zauberman, conducted an experiment framed around participants use of cameras. Their work, similar to Mevvis and Tully, found that those who did not take photos had “more enhanced visual memory” than those that did take photos.