Social Media Use May Lead to an Impaired Memory of Actual Events

Social media use may actually prevent us from remembering the moments we try to preserve.

Imagine yourself enjoying a good time with your friends or family. You decide to take a picture and post it on Instagram. You assume this will help you remember this moment. However, as a clinical psychologist can tell you, it might also alter your experience.

Millions of people document and share their experiences on social media daily. They post about their friends, families, events, food choices, and recent travels. Saving these moments and sharing them with others has become mainstream behavior, paving the way for new forms of communication and socializing. From a psychological perspective, engaging in this type of action may be beneficial. It seems to improve an individual’s mood and also add interpersonal benefits, including the development of trust and a social orientation towards connecting with others. 

However, recent studies seem to suggest that when we document and share these precious moments, our memories of these experiences may be altered. So, the use of social media and  sharing our most prized moments may actually prevent us from depositing the moments we are trying to preserve into our memory banks. It may be wise to consider whether we should or shouldn’t post pictures of our experiences to commit them to memory.

How does social media use affect memory?

American researchers have shown that picture-taking and shooting videos to share on social media can impair a person’s memories. Across several studies, media use led to impaired memory of the actual events, regardless of whether the documentation would be preserved or shared with others.

Your camera acts as an external memory device. Some researchers believe that memory impairment may occur while recording the event. A photo-taking memory impairment effect has been demonstrated in several studies. An explanation for this effect comes from “transactive memory,” where the burden of remembering something is shared among more than one person. In this particular case, the burden of remembering something is shared between a person and a camera. According to researchers at the University of California, camera use led to impaired memories, regardless of whether or not the participants believed they could use their camera as a “transactive memory” associate. 

Another explanation suggests that recording a situation may also disengage or distract people from the present-moment experience. It focuses their attention only on specific aspects of the event. This can cause people to process the experience differently. Researchers demonstrated that taking pictures, an activity which engages visual orientation, led people to regard primarily visual rather than auditory aspects of their experiences. This study suggests that recording an event may even boost our memories, but it would be in a biased way (i.e., sight over sound).

How can a clinical psychologist help?

Now that you know about the effects that media use may have on our memories, you may want to reconsider abundant selfie-taking. If you want to engage with your experience on as many levels as possible, it is likely best if you don’t document it with your camera. As social media use grows, we identify more and more effects that alter the human psychological response. Social media addiction and using it to value your self-worth are two other potentially harmful responses to social media use. A therapist, like a therapist in Palatine, IL, can help you navigate these influences in your life to a healthy mental outcome. Call for a consultation to discuss your individual circumstances with a compassionate professional today. 

Thanks to Lotus Wellness Center for their insight into how social media use can lead to impaired memories of actual events, and how to be more present in these moments.