We may pine for the days when reading a long article transported us to a new world or gave insight into something we’ve never thought about, but apparently our brains aren’t wired for that kind of communication. The most accurate peek into the chatter of our inner minds, in fact, is Facebook status updates.
The study started out as an examination of the effects of various emotions on memory. Along the way, researchers found that people had a really good memory for Facebook posts. They decided to take this find to another level by experimenting the effects of microblogging (like Facebook posts) on memory.
Facebook Versus Faces and Books
The first two experiments had undergrads from UCSD in two groups. In the first experiment, one group read Facebook status updates and one read sentences from published books. The status updates came from real people’s pages and ranged from “The library is a place to study, not to talk on your phone” to “I am 7,689 days old.”
The book examples were selected from Amazon’s newest releases and chosen randomly. They were equally easy to read, if not better crafted: “Even honor had its limits,” and “How did he end up in this family?” The second experiment tested Facebook memorability against facial recognition. Two hundred neutral faces were picked from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) facial recognition database, FERET.
During testing, each group was shown one hundred blocks of text. Afterwards, they had to perform a test that mixed all of the sentences they saw among new “lures,” or new sentences, and choose which they saw during the test. The same was done for the pictures of faces. They rated their confidence in those choices at the end. In both cases, those in the Facebook group had more confidence than the other group, they were also more accurate in their recollection of messages.
Two more experiments were done, one that asked testers to link sentences to how much they reminded them of someone they knew, and another that compared Facebook postings to CNN headlines. In each case, the same result rang true: Microblog posts were more memorable.
Natural Speech Patterns Are More Memorable
Facebook posts are generated by regular people, because of that they are closer to tapping into the basic language capacities of our minds than professionally crafted sentences. If you use thoughts expressed through microblogs as an example, the natural pattern of human thinking is similar to gossip.
The study claims, “The relatively unfiltered and spontaneous production of one person’s mind is just the sort of thing that is readily stored in another’s mind.” Adding that while published text may be beautifully written or carefully edited, it doesn’t resonate as easily with our memory as naturally-generated information.
While microblogging isn’t changing anything about our memory, it is giving us an insight into how it works, says Dr. Laura Mickes, a senior research fellow at the University of Warwick and a lead researcher on the project. “I am not sure if microblogging is necessarily changing the way we think,” she says via email, “but I do think that the way we microblog taps into the way we have always colloquially communicated with one another.”
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