When the school year ends, students around the globe take to the stage for a curtain call. This theatrical metaphor is appropriate as the end of the academic year often takes the form of a show. Let me tell you about one such performance I recently attended: the year one farewell assembly at my daughter’s school in Abu Dhabi.
The moment it began, parents became paparazzi. Almost the entire audience held smart phones or tablets aloft. There were even a few mums and dads wielding high-end digital cameras. These determined parents were indefatigable in their attempts to capture the perfect moment.
Dr Linda Henkel, a cognitive psychologist at Fairfield University, Connecticut, describes a similar phenomenon she calls “photo-taking impairment effect”. In a recent article published in Psychological Science, Dr Henkel describes an experiment where one group of students are asked to photograph exhibits at the Bellarmine Museum of Art, while another group simply browse the exhibits, eyes-only. When tested the following day, the eyes-only group were far better at recognising objects from the museum’s exhibit. Dr Henkel suggests that when we photograph objects it is often a rather mindless activity, and consequently the memory doesn’t hold.
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