A Blurry Photographic Memory

Taking photos can worsen your memory of the things you see:

Two new studies published in Psychological Science found that people who took pictures of objects had more trouble remembering specific details about them, where they were situated, and even if they had seen them at all.

Fairfield University psychologist Linda Henkel had people take tours through the university’s Bellarmine Museum of Art. On the tour, the subjects were asked to take note of certain objects, either by photographing them, or simply by observing them. The next day participants had less accurate memories of the objects they photographed compared to the ones they had only observed. Henkel attributed this to something she called the “photo-taking impairment effect,” which is sort of like in The Phaedrus, where Plato warns that the written word kills our ability to memorize things, but with cameras instead of writing.

“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,” Henkel said.