Linda Henkel, PhD: A Psychologist Shaping the Landscape of Memory Research

Linda Henkel, PhD: A Psychologist Shaping the Landscape of Memory Research

many photos clothespinned to a string

One of Dr. Henkel's most influential research areas is her exploration of the impact of photography on memory.

Linda Henkel, PhD, a cognitive psychologist and professor of psychology at Fairfield University in the College of Arts and Sciences is a leading scholar in the field of memory research, transforming our understanding of human cognition. Dr. Henkel is renowned for her pioneering work in investigating memory errors and distortions across the lifespan, unraveling the intricate workings of the human mind.

At the heart of Dr. Henkel’s research is a profound fascination with the workings of memory — a cognitive process that influences our daily lives in innumerable ways. Her studies shed light on how our recollections can be susceptible to errors and distortions, irrespective of age.

One of Dr. Henkel's most influential research areas is her exploration of the impact of photography on memory. Her studies challenge the commonly held belief that photographs serve as perfect mementos, capturing events exactly as they occurred; her work demonstrates how taking and viewing photos can shape and sometimes even distort people's memories of their experiences. This research has highlighted the intricate relationship between visual documentation and the reconstruction of memories, leading to a deeper understanding of the human mind's intricate processes.

Recently, Dr. Henkel was called upon as an expert for comment in an international study that examined how printed photos and iPhone or electronic photos effect memory.

“Despite the widespread changes in technology, the main function of taking photos remains unchanged: people take photos with the intention of using those photos to remember later," Dr. Henkel said in the 2023 study conducted by Prospectus Global on behalf of Epson Europe. "However, photos can better do their job as memory aids when we look at them rather than just amass them on our phones. If we take photos merely as trophies to show off on social media, focusing our attention on how many comments and likes we get, we are less likely to remember details about our experiences.”

Dr. Henkel continued: “If we want to keep those memories alive, we need to participate in the cognitive processes that benefit memory. We need to engage with the photos, spend time organising them, culling them to find the best shots to display in our homes, printing them out to add to family albums. This can strengthen the accessibility and vividness of our memories, and as a result, means we are far more likely to remember the events later down the line.”

Dr. Henkel also believes that making our photos more accessible is key to holding on to memories: “We often have thousands of photos stored on our devices, many of which we rarely look at later or have trouble finding. Having visible and tangible photos whether in albums or on display, can help us access our memories of the events more easily. Furthermore, it’s not just the visual details shown in these photos we remember - they are a portal to our past. We can remember our feelings and emotions in that moment, the broader context such as what happened later that day, or even other memories from that general time. And the benefits go beyond just memory. Research shows that sharing our memories with others by reminiscing about them is associated with many positive outcomes, including improved mood, a stronger sense of connection with others, and decreased loneliness.”

Dr. Henkel's innovative studies have earned her widespread recognition and accolades in the field of psychology. Her research findings have been published in prestigious academic journals, contributing significantly to the scientific community's knowledge of memory and cognition. Beyond her academic achievements, Dr. Henkel's work has practical implications for various fields, including law enforcement, eyewitness testimonies, and therapeutic interventions for memory-related disorders.

Dr. Henkel continues to push the boundaries of our understanding of how memory works, reminding us of the profound impact that memories can have on the human experience.

Learn more about Fairfield's Department of Psychology.

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