Do More Photos Equal Less Memories?

Does taking pictures lead to a less than picture-perfect memory?

The stereotypical tourist getup consists of tall socks probably paired with sandals, a Hawaiian-style shirt with a loud print, sunglasses and a camera. But in order to make memories on vacation–or anywhere else for that matter–one of these things just might not belong. And no, it’s not that over-the-top print that will haunt you for ages.

Actually, it just might be your camera. A recent article makes the case that taking pictures can actually be bad for your memory. But, does taking more photos equal less memories?

Confessions of a Camera-Carrier.

More photos equal less memories picture. Image.

Pictures are awesome souvenirs, but do more photos equal less memories? [flickr. shaughnhalls/ Creative Commons]

As the self-appointed photographer for most family outings, I can attest to the fact that taking pictures at any event does add an extra level of complexity. You’re not only looking at the landscape, buildings and other various points of interest. You’re also looking for the next opportunity to take that perfect photo.

All this looking around leads to a curious thing. You end up not remembering most of what happened. More photos equal less memories indeed. Sure, you have the photos to remind you, but they aren’t quite the same as the memories themselves.

Turns out that this is actually a scientific phenomenon.

Scientifically speaking, photos equal less memories.

Psychologist and Professor Linda Henkel put this idea to the test. She asked students to observe objects in the university’s art museum. Some objects they took pictures of and others they did not. The students then took a memory test. The results? The students remembered more details of the items that they did not photograph.

Prof. Henkel calls this the “photo-taking impairment effect.”

“As soon as you hit click on that camera, it’s as if you’ve outsourced your memory…Anytime we kind of count on these external memory devices, we’re taking away from the kind of mental cognitive processing that might help us actually remember that stuff on our own.”–Linda Henkel via NPR

The “photo-taking impairment effect” basically boils down to another way that depending on technology is replacing our own mental processes. We become dependent on the photos to remember the events for us. We also become so focused on taking photos that we don’t have sufficient time to experience the events to their fullest.

Don’t worry, you can still take pictures.

If photos equal less memories, then should we cut out cameras entirely? The good news is, that isn’t entirely necessary.

Just like many other things in life, picture taking should be enjoyed responsibly. There should be a balance between snapping photos and enjoying the moment. A selfie every five minutes? That might be a bit excessive. Some photos here and there? Great–just as long as they don’t become your main focus.


[Featured image via flickr. shaughnhalls/ Creative Commons]

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