Students know the feeling: you just spent the last five minutes rereading the same page, but you can’t seem to retain exactly what you just read. That leads to a 15-minute Facebook study break, where you’ll read numerous status updates that take about one second to read but you’ll probably still remember three days from now. Actually, change that “probably” to “definitely.”
Dubbed “the Facebook effect,” researchers found that Facebook status updates were one and a half times more memorable than sentences from books and a two and a half times more memorable than faces.
"We were really surprised," said Laura Mickes, visiting scholar at UC San Diego and a senior research fellow at the University of Warwick, in a statement. "These kinds of gaps in [memory] performance are on a scale similar to the differences between amnesiacs and people with healthy memory."
Daniel Bajic, Ryan Darby and Vivian Hwe of UC San Diego and Jill Warker of the University of Scranton conducted the research with participants who studied more than 200 anonymous Facebook posts that were close in length to sentences from books and made sure to take out any irregularities in those postings that may have made them more memorable.
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The top reason, according to the research, is that digital communications is so similar to the way people talk, and that similarity makes it more memorable than lines from books. The type of language that goes on social media posts such as the ones on Facebook are more conversational, unedited and informal.
"Modern technologies allow written language to return more closely to the casual, personal style of pre-literate communication. This is the style that resonates, and is remembered,” explained Nicholas Christenfield, a psychology professor at UC San Diego.
This doesn’t mean that our textbooks will suddenly become identical to Facebook and Twitter post formats. However, books are already taking on formats similar to instant messaging and online communications. Lauren Myracle is the author of books, “ttyl,” “l8r” and “g8r,” which are written in on pages resembling online chats, replacing the traditional chapters of paragraphs and sentences.
Susan Blackmore, author of “The Meme Machine,” says today’s brain is shaped by memes. Memes are units or streams of information constantly competing for our attention, moving through a culture by popping up or flashing on websites, TV commercials, or video clips, for instance. Today’s digital generation can relate to the characters in books like Myracle’s because the format is so similar to today’s everyday means of communication.
“Knowing this could help in the design of better educational tools as well as offering useful insights for communications or advertising. Writing that is easy and quick to generate is also easy to remember — the more casual and unedited, the more ‘mind-ready’ it is,” the researchers say.
Edited by Jamie Epstein