• sciandenvironment

Social media memories can alter your recollection and perspective of past events

A study has found that the number of likes you get may influence how you remember your own memories.


By Sam Johnson


Photo courtesy of Dole777 from Unsplash.


A new study by Jacobson and Beer in the journal Social Media + Society found that engagement in “memories” shared on social media substantially altered how these events were remembered.


The time for looking through old photo albums for a trip down memory lane itself is outdated. Rather, you will often be notified on a particular social media platform that has your “memories” of that date. A common pastime for many, especially during lockdowns in the pandemic, has been looking back on memories of the before-times, as captured on social media, seeing happy, social individuals enjoying themselves, ignorant of the horrors that were yet to come…


However, recent research suggests that metrics such as “likes” had a substantial impact on memories. The negative potential of this was particularly salient with participants denigrating memories that received less likes. Interestingly, researchers did not find significant positive effects when posts received high engagement. The research utilised a variety of social media platforms with features focused on memories, such as Timehop, Facebook memories, and Apple memories.


Researchers refer to this effect as “Quantified Nostalgia” where your subjective valuing of your memory is altered by the presence of salient social feedback data, such as number of likes. Memories, that were personally precious and well-regarded, were subconsciously reevaluated to be less interesting, important, and enjoyable when there was low positive engagement on posts of these events.


This is especially salient on social media where curated and touched-up photos and experiences are presented, creating upwards social-comparisons, having substantial negative impacts on mood and creating feelings of pressure to achieve the observed societal norms/standards.

Context has also been shown to be important in social media presentation where individuals' mood, self-esteem and mental health are impacted by comparisons to those presented around them. This is especially salient on social media where curated and touched-up photos and experiences are presented, creating upwards social-comparisons, having substantial negative impacts on mood and creating feelings of pressure to achieve the observed societal norms/standards.


In follow-up qualitative interviews, one participant stated, “I purposefully wouldn’t [share] cherished memories for fear of invalidating them through social engagement or the lack of it. We are social animals and social media has high potential to influence our mood, health and cognition. It is important, therefore, for social media platforms to investigate the design elements, gamification/metrification, and how these could be altered or changed to not influence our perception on these ‘memories’.”


While many of us would believe that we are more than capable of accurately remembering our own memories, we can clearly be affected when we post something and it receives more or less social media validation than we expected. A really negative aspect of social media is the comparative and competitive environment it breeds; so while it is easy to switch off from an app, it isn’t so easy to switch off from the associated moods and feelings. Being shown our “memories” can be a gentle, pleasant reminder of what we have done or seen, but there will always be so much more to our lives than social media will ever be able to remind us of.