Technology isn't always good for your memory. Overusing map apps can alter our navigational skills. Information overload can make us forgetful. Most of us treat Google like an external hard drive for information we might have once committed to memory. And all those selfies and picturesque vistas we photograph on vacation might be affecting how we remember the trip, according to a new study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology spotted by Vox.
In three different tests, a group of psychologists asked participants to record and/or share media while taking self-guided tours.
In one tour, 132 people were asked to explore a church on Stanford University's campus and either take at least five photos for themselves, take photos to post on Facebook, or take no photos at all. A week or two after they took the self-guided tour using a university brochure as a guide, they took a memory test about the details of what they saw. The researchers found that taking photos impaired how well people remembered the church, whether they were taking photos for themselves or to share on social media.
In another test, 238 participants took the same church tour, but did so in pairs instead of alone. Most didn't know their partners before the study. The pairs weren't allowed to talk to each other, and in each pair, the participants were part of different groups—in some, one participant was supposed to take photos for personal use while the other wasn't supposed to take photos at all; in others, one participant was supposed to share photos to Facebook and one was in the no-photo condition; and in still others, both partners were in the no-photo group. Again, the researchers found that taking photos negatively affected people's memories of the experience in a follow-up survey several days later.
Crucially, in both tests, taking photos didn't alter how much people enjoyed the experience, even if it made them remember less of it. But if the whole point of taking pictures is to remember a moment, it may not be a productive use of your vacation time, even if it does result in a fantastic profile picture.
The researchers conclude that recording an experience "may prevent people from remembering the very events they are attempting to preserve." Their study ends on a dark note: "Ironically, our results suggest that using media to preserve these moments may prevent people from fully experiencing them in the first place." At least you'll still have fun, though.