Taking photos: does it help memory or ruin it? 20



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When it comes to photography, our opinions at the Starts at 60 office vary wildly.

For some of us, the most important thing is living in the moment. The more engage with the people and places around us, the better they can shape us. Why place a lens or screen between yourself and the world?

For others, it’s all about creating a visual journal: a record of the travels and everyday encounters that may otherwise fade from memory. This attitude can be weighed down by a peculiar pre-emptive nostalgia; a need to immortalise and preserve the things that won’t last forever.

But is a photo truly the best way to preserve a memory? According to a new study at Fairfield University in Connecticut (as published in Psychological Science) it may actually be making our memories worse.

Psychological scientist Linda Henkel couldn’t help but notice how automatically people around her took photos. “People so often whip out their cameras almost mindlessly to capture a moment, to the point that they are missing what is happening right in front of them”.

To put this idea to the test, she asked volunteers to take a tour of a nearby museum and observe specific displays. Some were asked to take photos; others, by simply observing.

The next day, they were asked to describe what they saw. Those who took photos were far less accurate.

Henkel describes this overreliance on technology to remember for us as the “photo-taking impairment effect”.

“Research has suggested that the sheer volume and lack of organisation of digital photos for personal memories discourages many people from accessing and reminiscing about them. In order to remember, we have to access and interact with the photos, rather than just amass them”.

Henkel she reminds readers that people are normally driven to take photos out of curiosity and interest, not out of academic instruction. Taking photos and living in the moment do not need to be mutually exclusive.

Nonetheless, it’s an important reminder to us all: a camera lens is no substitute for our own eyes.


Do you agree? Do photos help your memory, or hinder it? And what memories do your own photos bring back for you?

Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. I lost my partner 7 years ago our girls said thank you for the memory’s

    2 REPLY
    • Jane I lost my Husband 4 years ago and we had some amazing trips the photo I cherish the most is the one taken on the Champs Élysées of us both having coffee and exactly a month after that he passed away a very big shock for me and my Family there’s one thing they can’t do and that’s take our memories away from us so cherish the photos you have Jane.xx

    • Yes jan I agree mine also passed suddenly also a big shock but we have some great photos of him with me and our girls he only new his grand daughter for 2months now he had 3grandsons that look a lot looked him xx

  2. I am known as the papparatzi at family gatherings and the family appreciate my photos I share, but sadly, I am not in any of them.

  3. I like to have photos to remind me of past events, to refresh my memory. But don’t take photos to replace the enjoyment of the moment.

  4. Agree, photos are great as memories, but recently in Italy, observed many tourists permanently taking pics, esp of themselves . They must have missed much of the splendour in the attempt for the perfect shot.

  5. I have a box of photos from my parents, weddings, small children, men in uniform. None labelled. Too late to ask who they are, some I don’t think my mother knew as they were her deceased mother’s collection. I guess they will get thrown out, such a shame the unlabelled history of my family.

    1 REPLY
    • Please don’t throw your photos out, you could ask your local library or Genealogy group if they could take them, this is like a treasure chest for any family researcher, detail who the photos belonged to with any bits of information, all can be clues for your future generations! Even the National Archives may take them for you. Photos are the link to our past, please don’t throw them out!

  6. Photos stimulate memories if you talk about them using them as an “aide memoire” and not just a silent record of events. It can stimulate other memories and give the grey matter a work out.
    Using the same logic I know passive reliance on my sat nav has affected my ability to find my way without it.

  7. Photos are lovely memories, to cherish, and share with families and friends. They naturally bring back fond memories,with nostalgia! They can be footprints of your life really! From babyhood up until now. People who have sadly lost everything in a bush fire etc, will lament over less of photographs etc. these are things that Insurance can never replace!

    1 REPLY
    • All my photos, old and not so old, are scanned and saved on discs and on the computer. I have off site back-ups as well. I’ve seen too many sad tales of those who lost their cherished photos in fires.

  8. It’s wonderful to see photos of older relatives as young people, my parents and grand so beautiful. And the letters are wonderful too, we speak differently when younger, but they convey how they lived and what their emotions were. Our grandchildren won’t have that to hand down photos and letters from the past are easier to keep than photos and letters on a computer, and nobody writes letters anymore.

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