Viewing Photos Makes for a Healthy Brain
There’s research out there that indicates that constantly taking photos may have a negative impact on memory and recall, or something Linda Henkel, psychologist and researcher of human memory at Fairfield University, calls the “photo-taking impairment effect.” All is not lost, however, as actually viewing photos that one has taken might help to close the loop by hardening those memories in our mind.
From an article at NPR:
The idea that we are experiencing less as we record more got psychologist Linda Henkel thinking. Her father was a photographer, and she wanted to explore how photographs shape our memories.
Henkel, who researches human memory at Fairfield University in Connecticut, began an experiment by sending groups of students to the university’s art museum. The students observed some objects and photographed others. Then, back at the laboratory, they were given a memory test.
Henkel found what she called a “photo-taking impairment effect.”
“The objects that they had taken photos of — they actually remembered fewer of them, and remembered fewer details about those objects. Like, how was this statue’s hands positioned, or what was this statue wearing on its head. They remembered fewer of the details if they took photos of them, rather than if they had just looked at them,” she says.
Henkel says her students’ memories were impaired because relying on an external memory aid means you subconsciously count on the camera to remember the details for you.
“As soon as you hit ‘click’ on that camera, it’s as if you’ve outsourced your memory,” she says. “Any time we … count on these external memory devices, we’re taking away from the kind of mental cognitive processing that might help us actually remember that stuff on our own.”
But Henkel doesn’t want people to stop taking photos. They’re still valuable tools that can provide “rich retrieval clues” later on, she says. Instead, she’d like us to be more mindful when taking pictures in the first place.
“I don’t know that the new technology is serving the functions of preserving memories quite as well, unless you take the extra step and actually look at the photos, and revive those memories from them.”
Henkel goes on to say in another article regarding photos and memories:
“When you’re looking at photos, what you’re doing is you’re reactivating your brain — those mental experiences that you had,” says Linda Henkel, a cognitive psychologist at Fairfield University who researches how photographs shape our memories.
“You’re thinking about what you thought about [that day], you’re looking at the color of the shirt. ‘Oh, my gosh, look at how beautiful that blue is — I remember that shirt,’ ” she says. “You’re reactivating the neurons that are involved in creating that memory experience, and those are all of the things that are going to benefit memory.”
The repetition of looking at photos and hearing the same stories helps the memories harden in our minds. While most of our photos are digital these days, printing them out can help with this act of repetition.