Study: People can remember more about Facebook than real books

But this might not be a bad thing! What the new research reveals about education, communication and memory

By Katie McDonough
January 15, 2013 10:44PM (UTC)
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Researchers at the University of Warwick and the University of California, San Diego, tested how well people could remember text taken from Facebook updates and compared it to sentences picked at random from books. What they found is that participants' memory for Facebook posts was about one and a half times greater than their memory for sentences from books.

Now before you slap your forehead and lament the death of the written word, consider the implications.


The study's findings shed considerable light on the kind of information we are hard-wired to retain, revealing that our brains favor natural, spontaneous writing over more polished content.

To put it into context, think about your Facebook timeline. Sure, there are too many posts about babies, but there is other stuff on there, too. Responses to news stories, thoughts about the world. Usually casual, often gossipy, these posts, researchers say, are easier to remember than more formal, edited content. Basically, the closer to natural speech something is, the better we remember it. (Sorry, Judith Butler! I still love you!)

Researchers say these findings could change the way we approach education, communications and advertising. They also reveal something striking about the evolution of the human mind.


As reported by Science Daily:

Professor Christine Harris suggests "Our findings might not seem so surprising when one considers how important both memory and the social world have been for survival over humans' ancestral history. We learn about rewards and threats from others. So it makes sense that our minds would be tuned to be particularly attentive to the activities and thoughts of people and to remember the information conveyed by them."

Our language capacity did not evolve to process carefully edited and polished text, notes author Professor Nicholas Christenfeld. "One could view the past five thousand years of painstaking, careful writing as the anomaly. Modern technologies allow written language to return more closely to the casual, personal style of pre-literate communication. And this is the style that resonates, and is remembered."

So will textbooks henceforth be composed in tweets? Will editors be sent to the bread lines?

No. But that doesn't mean change isn't coming, the researchers say. "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."



Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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