Posting personal experiences on Facebook and Twitter may make those events much easier to recall, suggests a study that examined social media’s effect on human memory.
Events posted online were more likely than those not posted online to be remembered over time, regardless of the characteristics of the events, the study said.
“If people want to remember personal experiences, the best way is to put them online,” said lead author Qi Wang, Professor at Cornell University at New York, in the US.
Memory researchers have long known that when people write about personal experiences, reflect on them or talk about them with others, they tend to remember those events much better.
However, “the process of writing about one’s experiences in the public sphere, often sustained by subsequent social feedback, may allow people to reflect on the experiences and their personal relevance”, Wang added.
Further, the act of posting on social media also plays a role in the construction of the self, Wang said pointing out that people create a sense of self in the process of recalling, evaluating and sharing with others memories of personal experiences in their lives.
In addition, these memories often gets facilitated by the interactive functions on many social media sites. For example, Facebook periodically shows users photos and posts from previous years to remind them of those events, prompting users to revisit those experiences.
“Memory is often selective. But in this case, the selection is not done by our own mind. It is done by an outside resource,” Wang stated, adding “so interactive functions on social networking sites can also shape how we view our experiences, how we view ourselves.”
For the study, the team asked 66 undergraduates students at the Cornell University to keep a daily diary for a week.
The study participants briefly described the events that happened to them each day. For each event, they recorded whether they had posted the event on social media. And they rated the event’s personal importance and emotional intensity on five-point scales.
At the end of the week and a week later, the students took surprise quizzes on how many events they could recall.
The researchers found that the online status of each event significantly predicted the likelihood of it being recalled at the end of both the first and second weeks.
The study sheds new light on memory theories and have important implications for the construction of “the autobiographical self” in the internet era where the virtual externalisation of personal memories has become commonplace”, the authors maintained in the paper that appeared in the journal Memory.