Not having tangible print outs of photos could be harming our ability to remember

By Epson Blog Team

Not having tangible print outs of photos could be harming our ability to remember

 Dr. Linda Henkel is a professor and currently Chair of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT, USA.
 She is a Cognitive Psychologist who specialises in research on memory in everyday settings.
 Dr. Henkel has published ground-breaking research on how taking and viewing photos shapes people's memories of their experiences. 

Her work has appeared in journals such as Psychological Science; Memory; Psychology & Aging and Journal of Memory and Language to name but a few. 

Dr Henkel has worked with Epson Europe on its latest research for its #Power of Print# campaign which looks at how printing, when done responsibly, can help us hold on to memories for longer

The study found that just 2 per cent of photos make it off our mobile phones and onto our walls, and over a third of people also admitted to not having any printed pictures of family or friends at home.

For Dr Henkel, having photos on display in our homes and in our workplace is an important way of helping to strengthen these memories, whilst also increasing our feelings of social connectedness and wellbeing. She explains:

I grew up surrounded by photos. My father was a photographer specialising in child and family portraits. So perhaps it’s not too surprising that in my 25-plus years as a psychology professor and memory researcher who conducts experiments to understand how memory works, that part of my research has looked at the impact of taking and reviewing photos on our memories.

Despite widespread changes in technology with the advent of digital photography, smartphones, and social media, one thing that has not changed is the high importance people place on personal photos and the positive value that looking at photos can bring.

Research has demonstrated that looking at photos of important people in our lives increases our feelings of social connectedness, reminds of us our values, and activates brain regions associated with feelings of safety. In the recent report by Epson Europe into people’s printing habits, it shows that looking at photos of family and friends helps us feel closer to them and elicits positive emotions and benefits for our mood. Past work has also shown that looking at personal photos can impact how we feel about ourselves and connect us with our cultural and genealogical roots. 

When we display physical photos in our homes or in our workplaces – framed photos on our walls or desks, snapshots on our refrigerators or mirrors, they afford us an opportunity to be transported back in time. To remember special moments from our lives and important people we care about. Displaying photos also allows us to share with others, telling them about the person or event depicted. This is valuable because research shows that reminiscing about our lives alone or with others, can increase our feelings of well-being, reduce loneliness, and give us a greater sense of meaning in life. So having printed photos on display is a great opportunity to bring about these positive benefits.

In fact, the primary reason people say they take photos is to help them remember things - we capture in our photos important or noteworthy special events, people, and places as well as ordinary aspects of our everyday lives. We also take photos for social reasons – to share our experiences, maintain and enhance social connections, and communicate with others. 

The ease of digital photography and pervasive use of smartphones means that we are taking more photos than ever, often sharing them via social media with a simple press of a button. People post photos to communicate information about where they are, what they are doing, and how they are feeling, which is a wonderful way to communicate, but if we are not mindful, we may be sabotaging our other memory-oriented goals and may be short-changing some of the social benefits that come from in-person sharing.

Indeed, photos can better do their job as memory aids when we take the time to look at them rather than just amass them on our phones. For example, when we share photos on social media, we often shift the focus of our attention to people’s responses to our posts such as how many likes or comments we get, and research shows we are less likely to remember details about our experiences when we post on social media in this way. That is why it is so important to do things that increase the odds that we will look at and interact with our photos, such as printing them.

Research shows that looking at personal photos helps us better remember the depicted experiences and feel transported back in time, reliving the events. Reviewing photos also serves to maintain the strength and vividness of our recollections. Memories are not frozen snapshots filed away in our brains’ memory banks. They can become less accessible and less vivid over time and as we age. Each time we remember an experience, for instance by looking at a photo and reminiscing about the depicted event, we activate neurons throughout our brain and have an opportunity to strength this memory, sometimes adding new perspectives and additional information to them. 

What’s more, photos help us remember beyond the visual details shown in the photos. Looking at my class photo from third grade can remind me not only of the outfit I wore that day and what I looked like but can remind me of that general time. For instance, I might remember the school play I had been in that year. The classmate who moved away before the class photo was even taken. When we activate one memory by looking at a photo, other neural representations in the brain can get activated and this brings about other associated memories. So, photos can serve as excellent retrieval cues, helping to bring our memories to mind more easily and keeping them vivid, but only if we take the time look at them and

interact with them. Having printed photos on display in our homes and our workplaces helps make our photos readily accessible to us in our daily lives. 

I take massive amounts of photos (it’s not my fault that my grandkids and my cats are so darn cute!).  A couple of times each year, I go through all the photos I have taken in the past few months, and I organise them on my computer, deleting some that are duds (e.g., blurry shots, duplicates, unflattering angles etc), and selecting some to print out in albums or as larger prints to frame. I print some 4x6s and rotate new ones in with my old prints on my refrigerator and in a spot near my desk. While I am sorting through the photos, I spend a few moments thinking about the people and the events, conjuring up my memories and knowing that these are ways to keep our memories alive. 

Epson’s EcoTank printers don’t use cartridges. They come with enough ink for up to three years printing saving you up to 90% on ink costs, and a lot of time, and hassle. So when you have to print, it makes sense to print it on an Epson EcoTank

About Epson

Epson is a global technology leader dedicated to co-creating sustainability and enriching communities by leveraging its efficient, compact, and precision technologies and digital technologies to connect people, things, and information. The company is focused on solving societal issues through innovations in home and office printing, commercial and industrial printing, manufacturing, visual and lifestyle. Epson will become carbon negative and eliminate use of exhaustible underground resources such as oil and metal by 2050.

Led by the Japan-based Seiko Epson Corporation, the worldwide Epson Group generates annual sales of around JPY 1 trillion.

Article Information



Author profile

Epson Blog Team

Our team of bloggers have a passion for how technology can improve your lives and want to share this with you.