Trouble at work? Romantic tribulations? Yell it from the rooftops, put it in a song, but maybe lay off the social media confessionals: friends might remember you as a Debbie Downer long after things get better. Researchers have shown that Facebook status updates linger in the memory longer than either sentences from books or new faces.
What’s the Deal?
A study has found that Facebook status updates are easier to remember than faces or even great works of literature. In fact, researchers compared the difference in recognition between Facebook posts and book sentences to the difference between a person with amnesia and a person with a normal memory (hope nobody’s status had typos!). Researchers from the University of Warwick and UC San Diego tested the memorability of short Facebook messages against sentences from books and human faces. Students were shown 100 sentence-long Facebook posts (no photos, no formatting, no cat videos) for three seconds at a time. After that, the researchers showed them 200 more Facebook posts, including the 100 the participants had seen before. The students were asked to identify the familiar sentences and rate how confident they were about their answers. The participants then repeated the test with 100 sentences taken from recently published books and 100 unfamiliar human faces.
Perhaps surprisingly, the social media blurbs won the day — by a landslide: On average, the participants found it was one and a half times easier to remember the Facebook blurbs than the lines from books. Facebook beat out regular faces, too — participants’ memory for the statuses was nearly two and a half times stronger than it was for faces. Just to be extra sure, the researchers expanded the original study in several follow-up studies comparing participants’ recall of news headlines versus sentences from news stories and “hard news” versus entertainment reporting.
The results weren’t too surprising: people were better at remembering headlines than paragraph snippets and more likely to recall Kim Kardashian’s wedding shower deets than Ahmadinejad’s latest political moves. These findings help shed some light on why participants were able to remember Facebook statuses in the original study. It’s possible the Facebook status posts were easier to remember because they’re gossipy in nature and are made up of complete, fully-formed thoughts, or “mind-ready” statements.
Is it Legit?
You betcha. The psychologists who ran the study hypothesized that the key lies in the structure of the words. Most people type angsty, happy, excited, sappy, annoyed, or snarky social media updates straight from the source with no edits (thank goodness for the “delete post” button!). The stream-of-consciousness, uncensored style of writing mimics casual speech, which is much easier to remember than anything read on a page. Several studies have reported that “producing” — saying information aloud or hearing it from someone else — is a superior method for retaining information, which may explain why universities offer lectures in addition to textbooks and why company meetings are often more productive than email threads Widening the boundaries of the production effect. Forrin ND, Macleod CM, Ozubko JD. Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario., Canada. Memory and Cognition. 2012 Oct; 40(7):1046-55..
In this age of social media and digital everything, what’s the significance of this study? Instead of trying to study dry copy from a textbook or memorize a list of information straight from the source, try to break it up into short vernacular-style chunks. Reading aloud never hurts, either. Oh, and maybe think twice about those status updates before planting them in friends’ minds forever.