Photographers Beware! Taking Photos Boosts Visual Memory but Hurts Nonvisual Memory
New Research from NYU Stern, USC Marshall, Wharton & Yale professors shows that photo-taking enhances visual details in our memories, but impairs nonvisual aspects of memory
If you want to retain more information from a guided tour, for example, you may be better served to put the camera away.
“Our research is novel because it shows that photo-taking itself improves memory for visual aspects of an experience but can hurt memory for nonvisual aspects, like auditory details,” explains Barasch.
Across four experiments, the authors examined participants in a variety of experiential settings, including an exhibit of Etruscan artifacts with an audio guide – some with a camera and some without. According to their findings:
- Participants who took photos visually recognized more objects compared with those who didn’t have a camera, regardless of whether the objects in question were the most or least photographed.
- Those with cameras remembered less nonvisual information than their peers without cameras.
- Participants who were instructed to take “mental photos” also showed enhanced visual memory and impaired nonvisual memory relative to those who could not take photos.
- Photo-takers even had better visual memory for aspects of the exhibit they didn’t photograph (e.g., objects they didn’t take a photo of), compared with participants who weren’t able to take pictures.
The article, “Photographic Memory: The Effects of Volitional Photo Taking on Memory for Visual and Auditory Aspects of an Experience,” will be published in Psychological Science in June 2017.