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Memory Loss Causes: Taking Pictures May Ruin What You Recall

All Those Pictures On Your Phone May Be Making You Forget Faster
Oliver Rossi via Getty Images

Snapping photos of every detail of your happiest moments could be wrecking your ability to remember them, a new study finds.

"People so often whip out their cameras almost mindlessly to capture a moment, to the point that they are missing what is happening right in front of them," says researcher Linda Henkel of Fairfeld University in the U.S.

In the study, Henkel and her team found that people had worse memory for objects, and for specific object details, when they took photos of them. Findings were recently published online in the journal Psychological Science.

To conduct her research, Henkel recruited 28 subjects for a tour of the university's Bellarmine Museum of Art. Subjects paused in front of 30 objects, with subjects randomly assigned to observe 15 artifacts and photograph the other 15. The next day, the research team issued memory tests about the tour, with subjects asked to jot down the names of the objects they saw and respond to questions about details.

Findings showed that subjects had trouble remembering the objects they photographed, something Henkel describes as "photo-taking impairment effect."

"When people rely on technology to remember for them — counting on the camera to record the event and thus not needing to attend to it fully themselves — it can have a negative impact on how well they remember their experiences," she explains.

But doesn't your database of digital photos jog the memory? "Research has suggested that the sheer volume and lack of organization of digital photos for personal memories discourages many people from accessing and reminiscing about them," says Henkel. "In order to remember, we have to access and interact with the photos, rather than just amass them."

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