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Mindlessly Snapping Photos at Museums Keeps People From Remembering the Actual Visit

People might use cameras as a crutch for returning to and remembering things later rather than paying attention to what is transpiring in the moment

smithsonian.com

Next time you visit a museum, consider being more prudent with your camera. According to new research, people who snap more pictures actually remember less about the paintings and relics they viewed than those who were more discreet behind the lens.

Psychologist Linda Henkel found herself annoyed with museum visitors snapping photos of every statue, painting and old pot, and tourists walking up to the Grand Canyon only to pay more attention to their cameras than to the scenery. So she decided to test whether or not those camera-happy visitors were really getting anything out of the experience they seemed so eager to document. LiveScience describes how she did this:

For her first experiment, Henkel recruited 28 undergraduates for a tour at the university's Bellarmine Museum of Art. Pausing in front of 30 objects, the students were randomly assigned simply to observe 15 artifacts and photograph the other 15.

In a second experiment, 46 undergraduates went on a similar tour of the museum that focused on 27 objects. These students were randomly assigned to look at nine objects, to photograph another nine and to take pictures of a specific detail like the head or feet of a statue on the remaining nine.


The following day, students completed a verbal and visual memory test about the objects they saw on their visit. When the students took photos, she found, they remembered the actual objects less well. There was an exception, however. People who took a zoomed, detailed shot of a particular detail on a certain artifact or artwork did indeed better remember the object as a whole.

She dubbed the memory loss phenomenon  "photo-taking impairment effect," LiveScience reports, and thinks that this happens because people perhaps use cameras as a crutch for returning to and remembering things later—like taking visual notes—rather than paying attention to what is transpiring in the moment.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Europe's Small House Museums
Are Science Museums Going Extinct?

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