Facebook Posts More Memorable than Faces, Books

You may forget a face, but you're unlikely to forget a Facebook post. New research from psychologists at the University of California, San Diego, indicate that people are far more likely to remember what a Facebook friend had for dinner last night than to recognize someone they met at a party.

Combined with Facebook's new Graph Search announced yesterday (Jan. 15.), your next update could reach and be remembered by more people than you anticipate. Read more: Facebook Graph Search Makes Your Secrets Easier to Find

Laura Mickes and her colleagues at the university compared the memorableness of Facebook posts with sentences from books and with human faces. Students were shown a series of anonymous status updates from Facebook, short sentences from both fiction and nonfiction books on Amazon.com and photos of strangers from a government database.

The difference in memory between an offhand Facebook status update and the others was as striking as the difference in memory between amnesiacs and healthy people, the researchers wrote in their report, which was published in the journal Memory & Cognition.

In tests, students remembered having seen the Facebook posts with far more accuracy than the book excerpts. And the casual comments turned out to be even more memorable than faces, which are known to be received and retained by a particular area of the brain — the fusiform face area, suggesting that the brain is specially designed to process and store facial information.

Initially, Mickes thought the surprising findings could be related to personal associations people made with the posts, such as "that's something my friend would say," but that was that not the case. In a follow-up experiment, students were asked to think of a personal experience tied to the book excerpts — such associations did not improve memory.

They even ruled out the idea that certain posts were more memorable because they contained flashy symbols, including emoticons and multiple exclamation marks. Ordinary posts were still far easier to remember than book text.

So what is it about the swiftly typed updates that make them so hard to forget? According to Mickes, "Some sentences — and, most likely, those without careful editing, polishing, and perfecting—are naturally more 'mind-ready.'" In other words, the brain may retain conversational writing better than stilted prose.