Photography and photographs have always been used to eternalize a moment before they soon become a memory. But do they actually improve your memory?

If you are a photographer who spends a lot of time taking photos or if you are interested in photography, this topic might be of interest to you. After all, if you could produce beautiful images while improving your brain function, why shouldn’t you?

How the brain works

The human brain is, of course, designed to store memories. But oddly enough, it also has the tendency to fabricate or alter these memories in order to make sense of them. Sometimes complicated events take plans in our life and our brain will try its best to process these events by rationalizing them. Based on our culture, views and personality, the brain will start putting pieces together of what we feel is right.

We all know that we memorize something better when we pay more attention to it. Memory becomes more accurate when factors such as emotions and mindfulness are involved.

Straight-A students do not just reread their textbooks, they also dig deep into the wormhole of knowledge to get a more in-depth understanding of the topic. The more absorbed we are toward an activity; we will likely remember it more.

Engrossment and emotions are partly the reason we still remember those embarrassing moments that happened months or even years ago.

The trade-off

Love it or hate it, most people in today’s age spend prolonged periods of time in front of their screens. This ‘addiction’ is so widespread that some people are starting to train themselves into spending less of their time online, by practicing habits like “dopamine fasting,” which went viral on YouTube thanks to some self-improvement channels.

Smartphones are the ultimate tool for humans to store information in a time where keeping track of things is becoming more difficult. After all, most people don’t remember all of their relatives’ or friends’ phone numbers!

Known as memory offloading, we forget memories that we judge as unworthy or unnecessary. Our brains can only remember so much, and there will be times when we will forget what something means.

Does this mean that we are getting dumber because of smartphones? Well, not really. Quite the contrary — smartphones have been proven particularly useful for people suffering from the low cognitive ability. If someone gets lost in a town, they can easily open Google Maps and figure their way out.

If we manage to restrict the usage of smartphones, there is a possibility that we will be able to become smarter. Our smartphone is merely a tool waiting to be used wisely to increase the quality of our lives.

Where things get interesting

Credit: NYU Experience Stern

So what do smartphones have to do with photography and improving memory? Well, this is where it gets interesting. According to Alixandra Barash & Co’s research, the activity and intent of taking a photo would boost a person’s visual memory. The catch is their auditory memory will be slightly impaired.

Most intriguing are the people who “mentally picture” moments instead of actually taking them. Apparently, they enjoy the same cognitive effect as those actually taking pictures. Participants who were directed to take pictures remembered specific visuals that they didn’t even photograph.

When compared to the group who were told not to take photos and follow along the tour, the photographers were unable to remember the said audio given by the tour guide accurately.

This proves that photography doesn’t really outsource our memory; the act itself makes us tunnel vision toward visual aspects. This tunnel visioning distracts us from enjoying other sensations to the fullest such as how the wind felt, what the weather was like, etc.

Problems and conclusions

The main problem with this topic is the variables. It is becoming progressively tricky to assess how smartphones affect our cognition with our constant change of usage with it.

Our brains can adapt to a new lifestyle with ranging speeds, making each individual’s dynamics unique from each other. In the end, photography does improve visual memory.

However, there is a price to pay for it, which is our ability to sense other sensations surrounding us. Most articles and researches discussing this topic would mention the trade-off, which proved to be absolutely right.

We should commit to our decision when going on a holiday or trip. Either we enjoy the surroundings as they are or focus on encapsulating them in our photos to share on social media.