The idea that we are experiencing less as we record more got psychologist Linda Henkel thinking. Her father was a photographer, and she wanted to explore how photographs shape our memories.
Henkel, who researches human memory at Fairfield University in Connecticut, began an experiment by sending groups of students to the university’s art museum. The students observed some objects and photographed others. Then, back at the laboratory, they were given a memory test.
Henkel found what she called a “photo-taking impairment effect.”
“The objects that they had taken photos of — they actually remembered fewer of them, and remembered fewer details about those objects. Like, how was this statue’s hands positioned, or what was this statue wearing on its head. They remembered fewer of the details if they took photos of them, rather than if they had just looked at them,” she says.
Henkel says her students’ memories were impaired because relying on an external memory aid means you subconsciously count on the camera to remember the details for you.