Do Photos of an Event Improve Memory of it? Apparently Not

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We take a lot of photos. We upload them. But a study from UC Santa Cruz shows that photographs don’t actually present the truth of the moment: they actually distort it. The effect is called “cognitive offloading.” The linked article explains. “It turns out that photographing gives the photographer significantly less need to encode (i.e. we tend to put more mental stock, if you will, into the photograph that we just took rather than actually encoding the memory ourselves).” Sounds like vacationers need to spend more time gazing and less time photographing.

Check It Out: Do Photos of an Event Improve Memory of it? Apparently Not

Do Photos of an Event Improve Memory of it? Apparently Not

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  1. JonGl

    When I shoot photography on vacation–or wherever, I’m not just taking snapshots. I like to find something that recreates how it felt to be there. In other words, I tend to wait until something really “moves” me, and then I take the time to create a photograph that evokes how I felt then. In other words, after the impression is created by living it, then I like to recreate it in a photograph. Sometimes I either don’t want to, or forget to create a photograph at the time, but later I will go back and photograph it.

    The only times I take snapshots are those times when you need to keep moving and it’s difficult to really appreciate something (like an ancient fresco or mosaic), and then I’ll photograph it to document it, and then I go back later to appreciate it as best I can. But when looking at these photographs, I often recall the whole thing.

    I have what I consider to be poor long-term memory, and my memories fade over time, and can blend together–it’s very unreliable, but looking at photos I’ve taken is surprisingly effective at bringing back strong memories–no where near as good as reliving it, but the emotions I felt at the time come back.

    The truth is, all memories distort the truth. And worse, we tend to replay certain aspects in our minds, and can easily create utterly false or misleading memories, either making them more rosy, or more nightmarish, or whatever. Memory is always a horrible guide to judge by. I’d rather have my photographs, even though I _know_ they are themselves a distortion. What they help me do is recall what I actually felt and thought, which, IMO, is at least slightly better than a fuzzy, heavily-distorted memory. 🙂

    Thanks so much for sharing this! One reason why I love this site is because of articles like this! The fusion of tech and liberal arts and sciences!

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