We document our vacations and share them with our friends on social media so that we can make the memory last longer. But a new study found that the use of social media can actually make us more forgetful about what exactly happened in those pictures.
In a new paper published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers found that while sharing memories on social media may provide a permanent digital record of our experience, it is decreasing our own personal record in our heads.
Study: Social media is doing work of remembering for us
In a series of experiments, participants who recorded or shared their experience about a self-guided tour of a church on their phone had a 10% harder time remembering the original experience on memory tests. These participants enjoyed the experience just as much as the other groups did, but they had a harder time recalling what exactly they saw and experienced.
“Participants without media consistently remembered their experience more precisely than participants who used media,” the study concluded. “Together, these findings suggest that using media may prevent people from remembering the very events they are attempting to preserve.”
Blame ‘the Google effect’
Why does posting a memory make it harder for our brains to recall? The researchers suggest that it is because we outsource the work of remembering to our smart devices. When we task ourselves with externalizing the experience through technology, we are telling our brains that it is okay to lose something of the original experience, because the technology will remember it for us.
There’s even a name for this selective amnesia — the Google effect, a phenomenon coined in 2011 by psychologists for how the internet replaces our brain as a memory bank.
“When faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it,” the researchers in that 2011 paper found.
So next time you want to take a picture of that fun memory and upload it on social media for all to see, go ahead and do so. Just recognize that it may not make it last longer for you.