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Research Highlights

Keep Your Vacation Alive: Buy a T-Shirt

Tom Meyvis

...personal digital photos, posted on social media and soon buried in the newsfeed, may have less impact than either the bottle opener bought on safari or even that clichéd souvenir tee shirt.

Souvenir means “to remember” in French, and new research from NYU Stern Professor Tom Meyvis demonstrates why. The authors found that, although we reminisce about our experiences much less than we expect, actual physical mementos – not simply posting digital photos – can spur us to remember and reminisce more often.
 
In “Forgetting to Remember Our Experiences: People Overestimate How Much They Will Retrospect About Personal Events,” Meyvis and co-author Stephanie Tully, a Stern PhD teaching at the University of Southern California, conducted a series of studies to investigate how people’s expectations of how often they would recall an experience compared to how often they actually did recall it. They found that as much as people aspired to keep reliving their adventures or celebrations as time went on, their spontaneous recall of these experiences was surprisingly rare – and only increased when they had either purchased items related to the experience or printed out photographs that were readily viewable.
 
One study, for example, focused on a sample of 28 MBA students who had gone on an African safari during spring break.  Upon their return, they were asked to predict how many times they would talk about the trip and look at pictures of it in the next two months. Two months later, they reported on how often they had actually discussed it. It turned out that as much as they wanted to reminisce about and relive the experience, the reality fell far short of their expectations. Further, despite having taken pictures, they failed to look at the pictures as often as they had predicted they would.
 
The authors point out that to keep an experience alive, simply owning souvenirs, such as merchandise or framed professional photographs, is not sufficient if they aren’t readily accessible. “The mementos need to be noticed regularly to produce sustained accessibility” of the experience, they write. “Actual retrospection is strongly dependent on the accessibility of the experience (which is aided by visible mementos).” Thus, personal digital photos, posted on social media and soon buried in the newsfeed, may have less impact than either the bottle opener bought on safari or even that clichéd souvenir tee shirt.