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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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….

  4. 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.

  5. The current negative thinking on Apple’s ad and the research described is based on mostly false assumptions about the personality type of the people taking pictures or making videos. If you are a snap and forget photo(video)grapher… sure you’re losing out. But as a creative introvert, I have great empathy with the teen represented in Apple’s commercial. Anybody who spends time editing videos or photos knows: you dive deeply into the feelings and interactions that you are trying to represent and highlight. I have spent hours examing photos I’ve taken at art galleries… I believe my production of videos, slideshows, and books for family member had led to a deeper appreciation and memory of the events. If all you do is take the picture… then you are doing what the research here describes: outsourcing the memory. If you know you are in the process of producing something then it is important that you feel the moment as well, otherwise you can’t represent it well.

  6. Is it thus true that no-one has the time to both observe intently, and then take pictures? Usually it helps to examine things carefully- for best angle of view, lighting conditions, etc. Personally, I never _just_ take pictures of things. Hello?

  7. this study is about LCD, lowest common denominator, behavior. the apple commercial was about a creative kid who could grow up to be the next Scorcese or Tak Fujimoto. The study is about idle time wasters, not creatives using the phone camera as a tool. Pulling details, color palettes, macro shots, etc. allows me to remember a piece of art in a different way, than just a snapshot. I do agree that being too much in the viewfinder is a degraded experience compared to real life. The speed at which I can now turn on the 5S and snap an in-focus photo really does cut down on the distraction leaving more time outside the viewfinder.

    everything has its time and its place. At a concert, the people who pay $25-150 a ticket only to view it on a 2-4″ cellphone screen are just lame… it is a degraded experience.

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