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Facebook posts more memorable than faces

January 16, 2013 15:36 IST

FacebookPeople are much more likely to remember 'spontaneous' Facebook posts than human faces and text from books, according to a new study.

"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," said researcher Laura Mickes, visiting scholar at University of California, San Diego.

"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," Mickes said.

For the study, Mickes and her colleagues set up a memory test in which participants were shown 200 sentences for three seconds each on a computer screen, LiveScience reported. Half of the lines were taken from anonymised Facebook updates.

For example, "The library is a place to study, not to talk on your phone" and "My math professor told me that I was one of his brightest students", and the other sentences were pulled from recently published books, such as, "My throat was burning from screaming so loudly" and "Underneath the mass of facial hair beamed a large smile".

All the selections were similar in length, and the Facebook posts were taken out of the context of the social media site -- stripped of accompanying links, images and irregularities like emoticons or multiple exclamation points.

The participants were then shown 200 sentences (100 of which they had seen before) and instructed to indentify which ones they recognised.

The researchers found that the participants' memory was about one-and-a-half times stronger for Facebook posts than for book sentences.

The experiment was then tweaked, with sentences from books replaced with pictures of faces. Participants' memory for Facebook posts was nearly two-and-a-half times as strong as for faces, the researchers said.

"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," Mickes added.

The researchers speculate that Facebook status updates are so memorable because they are written in 'mind ready' formats -- they're spontaneous and closer to natural speech than the polished, edited text of books.

That could explain why the researchers also found similar levels of memorability for comments posted under online news articles, compared with headlines and text from the articles.

The study was published in the journal Memory & Cognition.

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