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How Social Media Can Influence Your Memories

Posting on social media can help you remember events later.

Key points

  • People are more likely to remember experiences that they post on social media, research suggests.
  • Posting on ephemeral social media channels like Snapchat also improves recall later, even though the post has disappeared.
  • These effects may occur because posting involves rehearsing and processing the event, or simply because people may post more memorable events.
Source: Pexels

A new study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking has found that sharing your personal memories on social media may have an added benefit of helping you remember those moments.

Researchers have found that memories of personal experiences improve when they’re posted on social media. People are more likely to remember experiences that they post about on social media. This is called “the mnemonic effect” of social media on autobiographical memories—where the memory of the event is facilitated by social media.

This improved memory from social media is in contrast to how digital media has been linked to memory problems, including a phenomenon called “The Google Effect.” The Google Effect is when people are less likely to remember information that can be easily found online—when the internet is used as a memory bank. For example, people might be less likely to try to remember actors' names or movie titles since that information is easily found online.

Another study found that posting on Facebook about personal events significantly improves memory of the experience both at the end of the week and one week later. People were asked to complete a 7-day daily diary for personal events and noted whether they shared about these events on Facebook. Then, they were given a surprise pop test about their week. People were more likely to recall personal events that they had posted about on social media.

What happens when you post about events on "ephemeral" social media such as Snapchat, where posts disappear after 10 seconds? The new study has found that posting on Snapchat similarly improves autobiographical memory of those events. People were instructed to post on Snapchat on alternate days of a week and then given a surprise memory test at the end of the week. Similar to Facebook, people were more able to recall diary entries and words from personal experiences that they posted about on Snapchat.

Why Posting on Social Media Improves Memory

The theory behind why this happens is still unclear. It is possible that there is a selection bias, meaning that people are more likely to post about experiences that are memorable to begin with. However, it is also possible that posting online is a form of “rehearsal” of personal experiences—a mental process of going back through the experience, which has been shown to improve one’s ability to retrieve that memory later.

Posting on social media requires more processing and planning and could encourage deeper reflection of the experiences. Putting in energy to curate one's self-image on social media and to project a specific online identity is a process that ties these personal experiences with self-identity. This process makes those memories stronger and more prominent.

What this also suggests is that the content that people post online could be actively shaping their autobiographical memory and self-identity. Posting on social media about personal events becomes like a diary echo chamber. If people tend to post about positive experiences, then they’re more likely to remember positive events and experiences. If they have a pattern of posting about negative experiences, then those negative events take a greater hold in their memory and self-identity. This research on social media suggests that the decision of what one posts on social media can have a greater impact on both personal memory and self-identity.

Marlynn Wei, MD Copyright © 2021

More from Dr. Marlynn Wei M.D., J.D.
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