Modern digital cameras have allowed us to capture moments in our lives conveniently, take multiple images easily, and share instantaneously. Current research asks the question, do all these photos make us remember better and how does it affect our experiences?
According to a study from Binghamton University, taking photos doesn’t improve our memory of an event. In fact, it can make us remember less. Published in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, researchers asked the subjects to look at artwork, taking images of some and not of others. In the study, subjects remembered more of the art they simply observed, rather than those they snapped. Note that the subjects did not look at their images after they were taken in measuring their recollection.
Photo-taking impairment effect refers to the concept of remembering less when we document our observation. The photo-taking impairment effect happens as a result of the camera diverting attention from a moment. The effect does not rely on the idea of having future access to our images, or the idea of outsourcing our memory to a digital storage. There’s another term for that: google effect. Knowing that we can readily access information makes us less likely to remember that information.
Engagement and Enjoyment
We might not remember as well when taking photos, but a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that taking images of experiences increases engagement. This poses a double-edge sword: when engagement increases, we experience more joy when it comes to happy events, and when we have a negative experience, photos heightens that negative experience as well. The study also observes that the increase in enjoyment when taking images is not limited to new experiences. Even mundane ones, such as taking images of our food, increases our engagement with the object and event.
When It Gets In the Way
However, when taking images become cumbersome and intrusive, we don’t experience the same enjoyment. In the controlled experiment from the same study, this interference includes the ability to delete images or having a bulky camera, for example.
A study from the Association for Computing Machinery controlled for number of images in understanding the photo-taking impairment effect. The group with limited photo taking capability showed higher memory gain. Researchers limited the number of images they can take to 24 max. The researchers hypothesize that having a limit on images allows us to be more selective and “capture more important moments”.
The camera is not an enemy. If used mindfully, our gadgets can bring us joy and help us recollect memories. Currently, I have close to 18,000 images and 306 videos in my iCloud. Admittedly, I used to take tons of images and videos when I joined Instagram and discovered the joy of filters, but I have since mellowed down. Reading the research has made me realize that I need to take more photos of events, loved ones, and myself, but with a few caveats.
Take photos mindfully: I shouldn’t be ashamed or feel guilty of taking out my phone when I’m enjoying a moment. I can still be in the moment and take a photo at the same time. But I shouldn’t overthink filters and angles.
Use my photos: What’s the use of taking all of these images, when I’m not even looking at them? The photo widget on my phone, tablet, and computer helps me remember past events. I get a group of new images daily, just enough to give me a nice cozy feeling.
Purposeful: I’m clear about why I’m taking a photo. Is it for others or for my own? It helps to understand my actions and the best way to achieve my purpose without compromising my joy.