The first study to look at the effect of social media on memory suggests that maybe we all want to be sharing more.
Memory researchers have long-known that when people write about personal experiences, reflect on them or talk about them with others, they tend to remember those events much better, notes a press release on the study by Cornell University. Researchers asked 66 Cornell undergraduates to keep a daily diary for a week in which they briefly described the events that happened to them each day, excluding daily routines such as “had breakfast.” They noted whether they had posted the event on social media and rated the event’s personal importance and emotional intensity on five-point scales. At the end of the week and then again a week later, the students were tested on how many events they could recall.
The researchers found that the online status of each event significantly predicted the likelihood of it being recalled at the end of both the first and second weeks. This was true even when they controlled for the personal importance and emotional intensity of the events. In other words, events posted online were more likely than those not posted online to be remembered over time, regardless of the characteristics of the events, noted the press release.
“The process of writing about one’s experiences in the public sphere, often sustained by subsequent social feedback, may allow people to reflect on the experiences and their personal relevance,” the study said.
Facebook may have been out in front on this one. The site periodically shows users photos and posts from previous years to remind them of those events, prompting users to revisit those experiences.
“Memory is often selective. But in this case, the selection is not done by our own mind; it’s done by an outside resource,” said the study. “So interactive functions on social networking sites can also shape how we view our experiences, how we view ourselves.”
OK, but do we really want to remember what we had for lunch last year?