Are Our Smartphones Messing With Our Memories
Aston Foster
Aston Foster
Staff Writer

Are Our Smartphones Messing With Our Memories?

Thanks to the invention of the smartphone, everyone has a tiny genius tucked right in their pocket. But is having that extreme level of intelligence at your fingertips disrupting your own brain functions? More than 80 percent of Americans use a smartphone and many rely on these devices for memory enhancement and analytical thinking. Smartphones have become a “cognitive crutch” in our daily lives, and the main culprit in depleting our learning and remembering is the camera feature. 

Is taking photos ruining our memories?

Smartphones have revolutionized our social connections. We can take multiple photos and share them immediately on social media or in a private photo-sharing app like ibi with select family and friends. The smart photo manager, ibi, allows users to store thousands of memories with 1 terabyte of space available. With seemingly limitless storage, constantly taking and sharing photos is easier than ever. But research suggests that taking photos can not only help but also harm the formation of memories. 

A study published last year in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that when people have their smartphone handy for pictures, they are less likely to pay attention to (and therefore remember) what they are photographing. The study conducted multiple experiments on participants of a tour of the Stanford Memorial Church—some had cameras, some did not. After the tour, participants took a quiz on what they learned. Those without cameras scored higher, earning a seven out of 10, while those with got a six. The reason why those taking photos scored lower? Cameras are distracting us from paying attention to the full experience. 

But that’s not to say taking photos on our smartphones is all bad. Smartphone cameras are merely harnessing our attention differently, and when directed properly can actually support memory function by providing us with memory cues of our experiences. 

Alixandra Barasch, a cognitive scientist at New York University, conducts studies at Stanford of museum tour participants. The participants taking photos typically remember the visual portion of their tour but are not as likely to recall the information heard. In this sense, constantly snapping photos is limiting our experience to just what we see and not taking in every aspect of the moment (like sounds, smells, and feelings). 

We need to be mindful in order to retain our experiences. Using cameras to focus on specific details of the environment can help improve our memories. And storing these photos in one organized place like in the photo manager, ibi, can give us a source to look back and reflect on these details. 

How smartphones can help memory loss with Alzheimer’s patients

For individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, smartphones can actually help with remembering. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease found that patients with Alzheimer’s can remember things like medical appointments and other events when using a calendar application on their smartphones, specifically when implementing the reminder alert feature on Google calendar. The study’s conclusions suggest smartphones can become a powerful tool for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. 

And the use of pictures stored on a smartphone can also help in reducing memory loss for Alzheimer’s patients. A 2012 study in Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports found that pictures help with memory recognition and are far better for patients to retain than verbal stimuli. With this in mind, having individuals with Alzheimer’s utilize the collection of photos in their smartphones for memory cues can certainly be beneficial. 

Yet these sorts of phenomenons still need to be further studied by and other institutions to fully understand how smartphone technology can help Alzheimer’s patients.