Facebook memory

We have a better Facebook memory than we have for real faces!

the Facebook logo

Is it any wonder our Facebook memory is so good when Facebook and the Facebook logo seem to be absolutely everywhere?

Can it really be true that we have a better Facebook memory than the memory we have for actual faces? Seems odd, to say the least … ridiculous would probably be closer to the truth. But research has shown that we actually have an amazing memory for the stuff we read on Facebook, and it leaves a real impression.

Great news for Facebook, at least, and for all its users, but it does seem to fly in the face of logic. Even with over a billion users a month (as of May 2013), and with the Facebook logo seemingly everywhere you look these days, this wasn’t to be expected. It even took the researchers by surprise!

Laura Mickes, a senior research fellow at the University of Warwick, England, and temporarily working at University of California, San Diego, said:

“Facebook is updated roughly 30 million times an hour so it’s easy to dismiss it as full of mundane, trivial bits of information that we will instantly forget as soon as we read them. But our study turns that view on its head, and by doing so gives us a really useful glimpse into the kinds of information
we’re hardwired to remember.”

Facebook posts play a part in research

For the study, Mickes and her colleagues set up a Facebook memory test. The participants were shown a series of 200 sentences for three seconds each. While half of the sentences were taken from recently published books, half were from [anonymous] Facebook posts. All the sentences were about the same length, and anything that might inadvertently ‘brand’ the Facebook posts as Facebook posts (e.g. hyperlinks, emoticons, etc) was carefully stripped away in an effort to make the sentences look more ‘bland’.

In the next stage of the Facebook memory study, the participants were again shown 200 sentences, 100 of which they had been shown earlier, and asked to point out which ones they recognised. The surprising result was that the participants’ Facebook memory (i.e. for Facebook posts) was far better than for the other sentences – about one-and-a-half times better, in fact.

To see if this would hold true in other situations, the sentences (the ones taken from books) were then replaced with images of faces, and the study repeated. Even more surprisingly, the participants’ memory for the Facebook posts proved two-and-a-half times better this time!

“We were really surprised when we saw just how much stronger memory for Facebook posts was compared to other types of stimuli,” Mickes said. “These kinds of gaps in performance are on a scale similar to the differences between amnesiacs and people with healthy memory.”

Facebook posts are written ‘naturally’

The researchers think that the reason for these unexpected results might lie in the way Facebook posts are written. They are particularly memorable, they say, because they are written in what they call a ‘mind-ready’ format – often casual and spontaneous and much closer to the way people naturally speak than most written texts.

The odd thing is that the more carefully the text may be put together, the less memorable it probably will be, precisely because it does not appear entirely ‘natural’. To quote UC San Diego psychology professor Nicholas Christenfeld, who took part in the research:

“One could view the past five thousand years of painstaking, careful writing as the anomaly. Modern technologies allow written language to return more closely to the casual, personal style of pre-literate communication. And this is the style that resonates, and is remembered”.

Be careful what you say on Facebook!

All the more reason to be careful what you ‘say’ on Facebook, whether on your Facebook profile or in your Facebook status updates or posts. As many employees and prospective employees have found to their cost, companies are particularly sharp-eyed and have very long memories. And not just companies – when someone says something really silly on Facebook, it is quickly spotted and it’s there forever. Even if it’s deleted at the first opportunity, it might well have been ‘shared’ and copied to who-knows-how-many blogs and other Facebook pages (and frankly even one is too many, since it can then be copied and ‘shared’ again).

And, of course, the sillier it’ll make you look, the more likely it is to be be eagerly pounced on and passed around! Hey, that’s life!

Facebook status updates make you happy!

Facebook like logo

Updating your Facebook status can actually make you happier …
even if no one reads it!

Incidentally, one reason so many feel the urge to update their ‘status’ so often might be something that arose out of another recent study. It was found that students who updated their status more often than usual felt ‘less lonely’.

So this activity seems to actually make people happier and feel good about themselves (no real surprise there, I guess). The strange thing is that this applied even if no one else ‘Liked’ or commented on their posts!

I suppose, even if Facebook ‘friends’ are often no more than faceless names on a screen, they can seem very real and quite important to Facebook users. Specially if they use Facebook a lot and their Facebook profile (and the Facebook profiles of their ‘friends’) are of great importance to them.

Keep it ‘real’

I suppose if there’s one message that you might take from this research it’s this: if you want to make notes about something (for your own future reference), keep your writing style natural and ‘chatty’. You’ll be more likely to remember it!

And, perhaps surprisingly, the more elaborate and precise your style, the less likely you’ll be to remember it with any accuracy.

Uh-oh … back to the drawing board then, eh?


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