Facebook statuses more memorable than lines from books

Cognitive psychologists show human brains evolved to prioritize unfiltered information from social interaction.
Written by Janet Fang, Contributor

We’re more likely to remember the text of idle, trivial ephemera on microblogs like Facebook than the carefully crafted sentences of books, a new study shows. ScienceNOW reports.

Laura Mickes of the University of California, San Diego, and her colleagues were using Facebook posts to help investigate the effects of emotions on memory when they discovered that status updates seemed memorable on their own.

They gathered posts from their research assistants, like “Love clean sheets :)” and they randomly selected sentences from recently published books, including “Even honor had its limits." Undergrads were asked to memorize the selected phrases. Then, one at a time, a computer would display a sentence the volunteer had to memorize or a sentence that was altogether new; the volunteers were asked if they had seen each before.

  • Facebook posts were one-and-a-half times as memorable as the book sentences.

To test if the Facebook posts were easier to remember because they were more self-contained, complete thoughts, the team tested CNN news headlines against random sentences from news articles and the comments responding to articles.

  • Readers' comments were more memorable than headlines, which were more memorable than mid-story sentences.
  • Entertainment news was easier to remember than breaking news, but not as easy as the comments -- suggesting that the gossipy tone didn’t account for the memorability of posts and comments.

Mickes suggests that the answer comes down to how unfiltered the remarks are:

Effortless chatter is better than well-crafted sentences at tapping into our minds' basic language capacities -- because human brains evolved to prioritize and remember unfiltered information from social interaction. "Before typewriters, before the pen, before anything, we've been talking to each other," she says. "So it does seem [memory] goes hand-in-hand with natural language."

The study showed, for the first time, that the lack of editing made remembering text easier. The simpler the writing, the easier it is to take away the message. Blogs and social media might consider capitalizing on the fluidity of everyday conversation; those in education, advertising, communication might want to relax, and write as effortlessly as they can.

The work was published in Memory & Cognition this week.


Image: J. Fang

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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