Study: People who take pictures of art remember less about the works than those who don’t

“As museums swarm with visitors snapping photos in their galleries, new research suggests people who take pictures of art with their camera phones remember less about the works than those who don’t,” Ellen Gamerman reports for The Wall Street Journal.

“A study released last week found that people remember 10 percent fewer objects and roughly 12 percent fewer details about the objects they’ve seen if they’ve photographed them rather than simply looked at them,” Gamerman reports. “‘When you press click on that button for the camera, you’re sending a signal to your brain saying, ‘I’ve just outsourced this, the camera is going to remember this for me,” said Linda Henkel, a psychology professor at Fairfield University in Connecticut, who led the study. ‘The photos are trophies. You want to show people where you were rather than saying, ‘Hey, this is important, I want to remember this.””

Gamerman reports, “Ms. Henkel calls the resulting memory gap the ‘photo-taking impairment effect.'”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: We don’t need no stinikin’ studies! As we just wrote yesterday in a Take about Apple’s “Misunderstood” ad:

Over the past year or so, we’ve taken to NOT recording our childrens’ dance recitals, skiing trips, concerts, and everything else precisely because we found that we couldn’t really remember very well what happened. There’s a time and a place to record video and shoot stills, but it’s definitely not all the time.

We’ve gone back to experiencing the moment with our organic hardware instead of holding an iPhone between our eyeballs and life.

You should, too.

Related articles:
Love it or hate it, Apple’s new Christmas spot normalizes the glow – December 18, 2013
Apple’s ‘Misunderstood’ Christmas ad is a sad commentary on culture and does Apple no favors – December 17, 2013
Apple debuts touching new ‘Happy Holidays’ TV ad (with video) – December 16, 2013


  1. Given the sheer number of of (emotional) MDN feedbacks to this “Think Different” Apple ad – It’s safe to say this ad hit the mother lode of advertising gems and will be remembered for years to come…

    So will this record breaking blockbusting Apple Christmas sales record.

    Steve picked the right man, great job Tim!

    1. RetardyTheRetard,

      Yes, MDN is “doubling down” on “the stupidity” with research that supports their “stupidity.”

      It’s not surprising that you “don’t know where to begin.”

      1. Haha. RetardyTheRetard has a nice ring to it, but much like MDN’s post, the only thing it accomplishes is to show that the author is petty. The only thing the “study” accomplishes is to SUGGEST that people who use cameras a lot IN MUSEUMS ..MIGHT know less than those that don’t. It has almost no relevance to Apple’s commercial.

      2. So a prof at a Uni takes (an unknown number of) her undergrads to a museum and has them look at 30 paintings for 30 seconds and runs her “experiment”???

        Then makes her own theorem: ” You want to show people where you were rather than saying, ‘Hey, this is important, I want to remember this.'”

        If we’re going to throw the word ‘stupid’ around it might be applied to giving meaningfulness to an extremely limited and highly questionable statistical study. More than stupidity it’s really scary.

  2. That’s because they are probably busy taking a “selfie” and not even looking in the right direction… 🙂 (After all, it’s all about “me” and not that stupid piece of art.)

    1. It’s the stupid viewer…

      The difference is HOW you look. If one just runs around blasting away with a camera and not looking or experiencing where one is or what is out there… then of course nothing is experienced, absorbed or remembered.

  3. Having been around awhile, I am currently in the process of digitizing years of Kodachrome slides that I had taken throughout my life. Almost every one of them brings back the memory of a person, place or time. If you don’t bother to record mementos of your children and your younger selves, I guarantee that you will regret it later.

    1. Not only that, did anyone mention that the things you might miss while recording are the things no one else will remember after a few weeks. I.e. You might miss something but it’s not going to be anything major. People talk of lies lies and damn statistics. This bru-ha-ha ( did I say that right?) is just something akin to presenting stats in a different light. Presented as if you are blind to “everything” rather than as something you wouldn’t even write home about.

      Shame MDN is getting this wrong!

  4. Not to be the snooty photographer type…but isn’t it possible that people who take ‘snaps’ of art or, for that matter, of any subject might forget while those who actually think about the photo they’re taking might move their position to get better light or a better angle or whatever and so remember things more clearly because they actually thought about the subject

  5. And those who don’t take photos forget it faster because they have nothing to remember the event by.

    When I look at a photo, all the memories of that day come flooding back.

  6. This ‘study’ has been all over the British media, and personally I think it’s crap. I take hundreds of photos, of all sorts of subjects, including works of art, when allowed.
    While I’m sitting here tapping away at this, I can ‘see’, in my mind, a whole bunch of works of art that I’ve seen in the likes of Tate Modern, and I can clearly remember the circumstances of taking them. As has been pointed out, could it be that those who just take a quick snapshot while wandering round don’t remember, because they’re not interested enough for what they’re looking at to ‘stick in their memory; those like me, who have a keen interest, on the other hand, are really ‘looking’ at the subject, the photo just reinforces the memory.
    These academics are really smart, doesn’t mean they got much common-sense.

  7. Those of us who take photos for a living probably spend a lot more time looking at the subject and analyzing how best to capture it and the story being told than those who just “view” the same scene — unless we’re comparing photographers to art students and that which is being photographed is art; or we’re comparing photographers to architects and that which is being photographed is architectural in nature… see the trend?

    That said, I am definitely one who would have no memory of an event I photographed if I didn’t have the photographs later. But I’m okay with that because I have those photos for forever. Last night I attended a concert which I did not photograph and today I have little recollection of anything about it, and am glad I saved the program. The program serves to jog the memory much as the photographs would have.

  8. Congratulations MDN, you just got manipulated by clever advertising.
    In 20 years let’s see which of us best remembers their kids’ 1st birthday party….

  9. Not true for me. I am totally the opposite. After taking pictures and movies of events, I always take the time to view them and reminisce. This actually increases my memory of the events. And in greater detail too, since this is form of “photographic memory”.

    So I guess this problem exists for people who let their pictures and movies collect dust.

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