No pictures, please: Fairfield University professor studies photos and memory


Research with undergraduates published, goes viral

Image: HenkelWant to remember the experience of seeing the Mona Lisa at The Louvre, the massive dinosaur bones at the American Museum of Natural History or Dorothy's ruby slippers at the Smithsonian?

Don't bring your camera.

So says Linda Henkel, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Fairfield University, whose research into photo-taking and memory was published in the Dec. 5, 2013 issue of Psychological Science, a prestigious journal of the Association for Psychological Science. News of her research has been reported in media outlets in the United States, in Africa, and across Australia, Europe and Asia.

In research conducted with undergraduate students in the University's Bellarmine Museum of Art, Dr. Henkel found that museum-goers who took photos of works of art while walking around a museum had worse memory for the objects and for specific object details.

"People so often whip out their cameras almost mindlessly to capture a moment, to the point that they are missing what is happening right in front of them," she said.

Dr. Henkel enlisted a team of psychology majors to conduct the study, which grew out of a conversation she had in the lab with Alyssa Accomando '12, of Beverly, Mass. Accomando, Chelsea Morales '13, of Enfield, Conn., and Andrea Teofilo '12, of Woodbridge, Conn., helped with the study.

Katelyn Parisi '14, of Clifton, N.J., developed a follow-up study for independent research looking at the effects on memory if the individual is in the photo in question. She got the idea from her memories of canyon jumping in Switzerland. She realized her memories were from a third-party perspective and wondered if it was because she had seen photos of herself from that event.

"From there, the idea just took off and soon enough developed into my independent research study," she said. "The findings thus far show that when people look at photos that they are in, it changes the perspective from which they remember the event.

"Being able to conduct research as an undergraduate has been an incredibly enriching experience. The fact that I had the opportunity to take a random idea, something I was simply curious about, and turn it into my own research study still amazes me every day."

Dr. Henkel was thrilled she and her students could move out of the lab and into a real-world situation right on campus. "This was an amazing opportunity to extend my laboratory research into the more complex world of everyday life, using stimuli far richer and engaging than would otherwise be possible in the confines of my lab," she said. "Ultimately students got to see that psychological science is all around us, and the world literally is our lab!"

She thanked Jill Deupi, Ph.D., director and chief curator for University Museums, and Carey Weber, registrar and collections manager for the Bellarmine, for arranging for research in the museum galleries.

Read the original report in Psychological Science: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/12/04/0956797613504438.full.pdf+html

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Media Contact: Meredith Guinness, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2950, mguinness@fairfield.edu

Posted on December 12, 2013

Vol. 46, No. 138