Taking a picture may not make the memory last longer

A man uses a tablet computer to take a photograph of a painting by Edouard Manet entitled 'Mme Manet in the Conservatory' in the Royal Academy of Arts on January 22, 2013 in London, England.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Please, no photos: Snapping pictures of an event or item may not help you remember it later, new research shows.

Researchers took 28 people on a tour of Fairfield University’s Bellarmine Museum of Art in Conn. They were asked to look at 15 different objects and take photographs of 15 others.

The researchers also asked 46 subjects to look at 27 artifacts. They were instructed to examine nine of them, photograph nine others, and photograph a particular portion of the object on another nine artifacts.

The next day the subjects were quizzed both verbally and visually about what they saw. They remembered less about the actual object when they photographed it than when they just stared at it.

However, those who took detailed photos remembered the whole item better, even if the pictures did not pay attention to the other areas.

"These results show how the 'mind's eye' and the camera's eye are not the same," lead author Linda Henkel, a psychology researcher at Fairfield University, said in a press release.

Henkel told LiveScience that she got the idea for the study after seeing people at the Grand Canyon snapping pictures without pausing to take in the view.

"It occurred to me that people often whip out their cameras and cellphone cameras to capture a moment and were doing so almost mindlessly and missing what was happening right in front of them," she said.

Henkel believes that people experienced the “photo-taking impairment effect” because they had counted on the technology to store the experience, not their own mind.

“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,” she said in the release.

She pointed out that previous studies have shown that memory can be jogged by looking at photos, but only if the person peruses them -- not if they just keep the snapshots.

This particular study didn’t allow people to select the photo subjects, so that may have played a role in what they remembered. Henkel’s next study will allow the subjects to choose what they photograph.

The study was published Dec. 5 in Psychological Science.