I have lived abroad for about one third of my life. Unfortunately, I am not much of a photo taker and hence, most of the best moments are more captured within my memory. In recent years, my memory has been failing me and hence the start of the photo taking hobby. I took a ton of photos so that my friends and family could be a part of it, and see what I was seeing. But I always wondered if all those shots added to my enjoyment and deepened my memories, or by being preoccupied taking them, degraded my appreciation and recollection.
A recent study out of The Wharton School of Business has the answer. The researchers found that in actuality, taking photos can boost our memory for visual content, she and colleagues found. While taking a mental photo had a similar effect. The downside is that photo-takers remember less non-visual information. It’s a constant rule in biology and perhaps life, when you get an advantage somewhere, you’re taking away from someplace else. There’s an opportunity cost that comes with every characteristic or decision. Study participants who took “mental pictures,” remembered just as much as those who actually snapped off a few. And finally, participants who were allowed to take photos during an experiment remembered more of the visual environment, even things they didn’t personally shoot.
After all, everyone nowadays has an easy-to-use camera at their fingertips at all times. And think about all the photos you see in your social media feed every day. What impact is this having? Although we gain a lot out of a more visually-centered world, it comes at a cost. What people say for instance could become less important than how they look. How is a more visually-centered world changing politics, social interactions, education, commerce, and other spheres? Truth is, we just don’t know yet.
What we do know is you might not want to snap a photo of your food before you eat it, else you’re likely to concentrate more on how it looks than how it tastes. Restaurateurs meanwhile, may want to think twice about allowing photographs inside, even though things like Instagram can help them fill seats. In the long-term, their kitchen-based efforts could be dulled. If you’re at a concert, maybe put your phone away and enjoy the music. But if you’re seeing a sunset or the Grand Canyon, by all means snap away.
Educators should think about how they present information and what they want students to walk away with. Businesses can concentrate on the impression they want customers to leave with. And, individuals may think twice now before pulling out the camera. Now that we understand how picture taking affects us, we can better decide whether or not to snap off a photo, by how it’ll impact our experience and memory of it. So my little Jedi mental photo camera trick might still work. Merry Xmas and happy holidays! Capture those memories!
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