The first study of the effect of social media on our memory shows that the more you post online, the more you’ll remember.
The study, published in Memory, finds that when we post on social media we shape our memories, and even our sense of who we are. According to the lead author of the study and expert on personal memory, Qi Wang, “if people want to remember personal experiences, the best way is to put them online.”
The team collected the diaries of 66 Cornell undergraduates documenting the main events of each day for a week, along with ratings from 1 to 5 of the emotional intensity of the event and its personal importance, and a note of whether the student posted about it online. The students then had two surprise quizzes on the events they’d recorded – one at the end of the week and one a week later.
It turns out that if they had shared the event online, the students were significantly more likely to remember it in both tests, even when the personal importance and emotional intensity ratings where controlled.
When you post on social media, you are reflecting on your own experiences. Researchers have known for ages that we remember things better when we write about them, talk about them with others, photograph or even just sit and think about them, so the study’s result makes good sense. Combine that with some sites like Facebook regularly reminding you of your past events, and it can be hard to forget!
Not only that, but, according to Wang, when we post online we create a “sense of self” – our own perception of our experiences and who we are. She says that when we use social media, “we just think, ‘Oh, I’m sharing my experience with my friends.’ But by shaping the way we remember our experiences, it’s also shaping who we are.”
The researchers say that the study sheds new light on memory theories and is “the first step toward a better understanding of the autobiographical self in the internet era.” Just remember, next time you update your status or upload a photo, it could change who you think you are.
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