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UD professors weigh in on social media and memory study

Katie Peikes
Delaware Public Media

Posting on social media boosts the ability to remember past events, according to a new study from Cornell University.

University of Delaware neuroscientist Amy Griffin from the department of psychological and brain sciences says from her own research, memories get stronger the more times they are activated. She said documenting events in real time on social media offers another opportunity to strengthen a memory.

“You’re writing it in the moment,” Griffin said. “So the longer time interval between the experience and when you write about it, it’s also going to be susceptible to decay and distortion and just forgetting the details.”

That’s what Cornell researchers found in their study, “Externalising the autobiographical self: Sharing personal memories online facilitated memory retention”. They asked a group of young adults to keep a daily diary for one week and report if they had posted about any of the events in their diary on social media.

At the end of the week, the participants took a memory test asking them to recall as many events as they could from their diary. The results found sharing personal memories online actually helps people remember them better.

Lindsay Hoffman, the associate director of the Center for Political Communication at University of Delaware, said that makes sense from both a communication and psychological perspective.

“It’s a combination of posting things that matter to you but it’s also this kind of exercise in crafting that message,” Hoffman said. “The mental effort you put towards crafting that message for a social media audience makes it more memorable later on because of how we craft these messages specifically to portray ourselves in a certain light.”

Griffin also points out the immediacy of posting online, or documenting an event in real time, may allow a person to relive their experience more clearly when they revisit it later.

“From my research and my field and what I know is that memories get stronger the more times they’re activated,” Griffin said. “So that, I think, is what is happening based on what i know about how memories are formed and solidified.”

Writing a memory down later may distort it because of the increased time between an event or activity and when it’s recorded, Griffin said. Having social media on hand allows a person to record a memory immediately.

The study on social media and memory is the first of its kind. It’s part of Cornell researchers’ examination for how we construct an online version of ourselves.

Journal reference: Qi Wang, Dasom Lee & Yubo Hou (2016): Externalising the autobiographical self: sharing personal memories online facilitated memory retention, Memory, DOI: 10.1080/09658211.2016.1221115

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