See with your eyes, not your iPhone

Here on my comfy concrete perch, I see faces of wonder and amazement each and every day. Why? Well, just look at me.

But hark! I’ve been briefed on some startling research that suggests my many visitors might be forgetting to fully cherish my rousing company because they’re too busy fiddling with their camera phones, distracted by their desire to capture me as a digital image to treasure for eternity… I presume?

Clearly, this is an important issue. So pay careful attention to the words below of Dr Rob Nash, senior lecturer in psychology here at Aston, who has advice of how to awaken your senses to my presence… and other meaningful moments in life.

Over the last few weeks, so many people have visited X-Ray Ed and his friends around the West Midlands, and have taken loads of amazing photos of all the different colourful bears. But have you ever noticed how people sometimes get so wrapped up with taking photos, they forget to actually enjoy the moment itself? 

Will they even remember they met me?… 🙁

Usually we take photos as a way of helping us to remember our experiences. But psychology research shows that taking photos of our experiences can sometimes make our memory worse, rather than better!

In one study, for example, people visited a museum and during their tour they were told by a researcher to take photos of certain specific artifacts, and to just look at others. Later, these people took an unexpected test of how well they remembered the museum tour. The results were striking: people were less able to recall the artifacts they had photographed, than the artifacts they had only looked at!

Why might this be? Some psychologists have proposed that when we take photos, we might put less effort into committing to memory what we see, because we know that the camera will help us to remember anyway. In some cases this explanation is likely to be correct, but it isn’t necessarily the whole picture. In fact, taking photos sometimes has more complex effects on what we remember…

Rob Nash, senior lecturer in psychology

In some other research that was published very recently, participants again visited a museum. But this time one group of people got to choose what to photograph during their tour, rather than being told what to photograph. Another group of people, meanwhile, had their cameras and camera-devices taken away completely.

The researchers found that the people who had access to their cameras during the museum tour, and who took photos, later had better memory for the artifacts than did the people without cameras.

But there was a down-side… the people with cameras had worse memory for the audio guide that they listened to during the museum tour, which gave information about each of the artifacts. So, in this case taking photos seemed to help people remember what they saw, but it stopped them from remembering what they heard.

Those fools…

In short, taking photos changes how we pay attention to the world around us. Sometimes, we might pay so much attention to operating the camera and lining up the shot, that we barely notice what we’re even taking a photo of.

Other times, we might pay lots of attention to the things we want to capture, but as a result we ignore what else is going on around us. These attentional changes, in turn, mean that taking photos can affect what we’re able to remember about our experiences afterwards.

So here’s the thing: whilst bears are always fuzzy, your Big Sleuth memories don’t have to be! Come and take a selfie or two with X-Ray Ed (and make sure to share them with him on social media!), but don’t forget to put your camera away for a while and enjoy the moment too. Take in the scenery around Aston University campus, around Birmingham, and the wider West Midlands, and make sure you go home with a head full of fun memories rather than just a camera full of snapshots.