The success of social networks such as Facebook may provide clues to the type of information the human mind tends to favor. New research suggests human memory prefers spontaneous writing favored by users communicating online to grammatically polished text found in edited material. This the gist of the findings presented in a paper called Major Memory for Microblogs, which details the results of a research comparing memory retention of Facebook updates to book excerpts and faces.
One of the tests involved 32 people and assessed participants’ memory for Facebook posts in relation to their memory for sentences from books. The Facebook updates were stripped of images and removed from their original context. The result: participants remembered them one and a half times better than the edited sentences taken from books. That ratio increased to two and a half in a separate test for faces involving 16 people.
“These kinds of gaps in performance are on a scale similar to the differences between amnesiacs and people with healthy memory,” said Dr. Laura Mickes of the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick (U.K.), who authored the research along with Christine Harris and Nicholas Christenfeld, of UC San Diego (U.S.). She believes the results partially explain the popularity of social media platforms.
“The fact that posts were so memorable suggests that they resonate with the recipients,” says Mickes.
Even when graphic signs such as emoticons and unique characters were removed, Facebook posts kept the advantage over edited excerpts, the researchers say. The fact that the updates are self-contained while book sentences are chosen randomly and presented out of context could also explain why Facebook posts are more memorable.
The research team uses a concept called “mind ready” format, which means that “what easily comes to mind is easy to remember.” The concept explains why our memory prefers spontaneous, gossipy, or, as some may say, trivial, bits of information.
It all goes back to how we evolved. Harris highlights how memory and the social world have played a key role for human survival throughout history.
“We learn about rewards and threats from others,” she says.”
So it makes sense that our minds would be tuned to be particularly attentive to the activities and thoughts of people and to remember the information conveyed by them.” A similar pattern was observed with other online media such as Twitter and comments on online articles.
The researchers believe their findings could provide useful guidance for professionals who design educational tools and copywriters. They are currently exploring other forms of communication that are as memorable as microblogs and following up on the idea that they are mind-ready.
Major Memory for Microblogs was recently published in the journal Memory & Cognition.