We all accept that photographs keep our memories forever. The truth is something else entirely.



Cobbling together a reliable memory is very much like putting a puzzle together with your elbows. All the pieces are there, but it just doesn’t work, try as we might.

It’s probably also the reason why we feel the need to document things. Example: Here’s a photo of my face in Rio. You can’t see Rio, but you can see my face in Rio. I remember.

However, a study from UC Santa Cruz cares not for your memories, as they believe that photographs don’t actually present the truth of the moment, they distort it.

The reason is something called cognitive offloading. Because a photograph is a solitary image (against say a diary, which has more information), it gives the viewer fewer details to encode, so we tend to fill in the mental borders with fiction to help us remember the truth.

To prove it the dorks of Santa Cruz set two tests. In the first, two study groups were given 10-15 seconds to memorise paintings, one group used Snapchat to document the paintings, the other was given the regular iPhone camera/pictures app.

The second group was told right before the memory test that they wouldn’t able to use the pictures. In the second experiment, the Snapchat group was instructed to delete the photos manually after 15 seconds, and the second group was given 15 seconds of viewing time after they had taken a picture.

Confused? Me too. However, the results clears the whole thing up.

The conclusion the study reached was that 62.5% of the participants thought that they remembered more about the paintings, while only 19% of the participants realised that their photography actually lessened the experience of memorising the photos.

No? Me either. According to the words of the study, Snapchat and the iPhone was selected as the medium because:

Although speculative, one possible interpretation of this finding is that participants suffered from a sort of metacognitive illusion. Specifically, photo-taking may have given participants a subjective sense of encoding fluency, leading them to think they had already encoded the objects—not only via the camera but via their own organic memory—thus rendering them less likely to put additional effort toward encoding the objects in the time that followed.

Said differently, photo-taking may have led participants to think that they had already encoded the paintings, making them less likely to employ the type of encoding strategies that would have been useful for improving memory. So, Snapchat is evil and it’s making us lazy and destroying our treasured memories. Let’s cast it into the sea.

In fact, there’s a place I know that’d be perfect. It’s a beach close to my house, with a long winding rusty rail that leads to a jetski jump through a flaming hoop.




Share via