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Put down the camera if you really want to remember what's in front of you, study says

A study published in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition found that taking photos of something actually diminishes your memory of it — no matter if you save the picture or not. Other studies have found similar results.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition found that taking photos of something actually diminishes your memory of it — no matter if you save the picture or not. Other studies have found similar results. Creative Commons

It seems obvious: You take photographs to make sure you can remember the moment forever.

Maybe it's a vacation, maybe it's seeing your favorite artist in concert or maybe it's just a beautiful sunset. We've all probably stopped to snap a picture, thinking that it will forever help us to look back and recall what we were seeing in that instant.

But a study published in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition found that stopping to take a photograph of something actually diminishes your ability to remember it — no matter whether you save the picture or not.

For the study, researchers had 42 undergraduates from the University of California, Santa Cruz, look at images on a computer screen and then take a multiple-choice test about the images to see how much they remembered. There were three tests: Once the subjects took a photo that was later deleted, another time they took a photo that wasn't deleted and a third time they didn't take any pictures.

They each had 15 seconds to look at the images, the researchers explained, not including the time it took to snap a picture.

According to the study, it didn't matter what happened to the photo afterward — simply snapping a picture reduced a person's ability to remember what they had just seen. Those who didn't take any photos had the most success in recalling the images, the study says.

It's not the first time a study has reached this conclusion — another one from 2014 had subjects walk through a museum and do basically the same experiment. They took photographs of some of the works of art, the study says, and were then tasked with trying to remember them afterward.

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The result?

"If participants took a photo of each object as a whole," the researchers wrote, "they remembered fewer objects and remembered fewer details about the objects and the objects' locations in the museum than if they instead only observed the objects and did not photograph them."

But that wasn't the only interesting finding in the 2014 study. It also found that a person's memory wasn't affected if they only took a picture of a portion of a certain piece of art.

Lead researcher Linda Henkel explained why focusing on a specific part of an object allows a person to avoid the "photo-taking-impairment-effect."

"This finding highlights key differences between people's memory," she wrote, "and the camera's 'memory' and suggests that the additional attentional and cognitive processes engaged by this focused activity can eliminate the photo-taking-impairment effect."

Still, the evidence seems to be clear: The best chance you have at remembering a certain event is to just live in the moment.

That means put the camera down. Maybe just for a little while.

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