Girl sitting on the beach and photographing

Take photographs for better visual memory

We love taking photos of all our encounters and experiences and this activity has grown over the past decade or so.

Social media is booming with selfies, pictures of our pets or our feet, photos of our holidays and everyday experiences and images of what we find interesting.

But the reality is that some of these photos will not even get a second glance after it is taken.

The results showed that participants who had a camera recognized more of the objects in the exhibit compared to those without a camera but they also remembered less auditory information compared to participants without a camera.

Researchers therefore wondered if we remembered the experiences we photograph and how well we remember them even if we never revisit the photos again.

And does taking photographs affect our memory for what we saw differently than for what we heard?

Turns out that choosing to take pictures actually help us remember the visual details of our experiences as apposed to previous research which suggests that being able to take photographs or consult the internet allows us to outsource our memory by freeing up cognitive resources, but also impairing our ability to remember.

In one field experiment, 294 participants visited a museum exhibit of Etruscan artefacts. Some participants were allowed to take their camera with them and others were not. Those with a camera could take photographs of anything they wanted in the exhibit and were told to take at least 10 photos. As the participants toured the exhibit they listened to the tour guide.

At the end of the tour, the participants were asked multiple-choice questions asking them to identify the objects they had seen or complete factual statements made by the audio guide.

The results showed that participants who had a camera recognized more of the objects in the exhibit compared to those without a camera but they also remembered less auditory information compared to participants without a camera.

The findings prove that taking photos enhances visual memory and to test this further, participant navigated a virtual art gallery tour designed by the researchers. Participants navigated through the gallery on screen as they would in real life and some were able to take photos by clicking an on-screen button.

This experiment also showed that participants that took photos were better able to remember more of what they saw and less of what they heard, compared to those who didn’t take photos.

When researchers examined visual memory of the participants, they found that participants who were able to take photographs performed better on visual memory tasks regardless of whether the object was highly photographed or not.

People who took photographs even had a better visual memory of things they did not take a photograph of, compared to those who were not able to take photographs.

Researchers suggest that people who have a camera approach an experience in a different way fundamentally because even if they don’t take a photo of a particular object but have the intention to do so then it changes how they remember the object – they remember it better than those who don’t have a camera.

Even participants who thought their photos will be deleted and those who were instructed to “mentally take a photo” exhibited better visual memory but impaired auditory memory than those who could not take photos.

Across one field and three lab studies researchers found the same results.

Taking photos enhances our visual memory as we focus our attention towards the visual aspects of our experiences while we move our attention away from other things.

This just shows us that taking photos is a great way to boost our visual memory about our experiences though we do lose out on other aspects.

Source: Psychological Science

Meena Azzollini

Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!

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