Researchers from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom and the University of California, San Diego, tested volunteers to see how well they could remember text from Facebook updates compared with sentences chosen at random from books. The findings: Participants’ memories for Facebook posts was about one and a half times greater than their memories 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 hardwired to retain, revealing that our brains favor natural, spontaneous writing over more polished content.
Think about your Facebook timeline. Sure, there are too many posts about babies, but there are also responses to news stories and comments about the world—usually casual, often gossipy posts. The closer to natural speech something is, the better we remember it. Researchers say these findings reveal something striking about the evolution of the human mind.
On the Science Daily site, Christine Harris, a professor and a coauthor of the study, says, “Our findings might not seem so surprising when one considers how important memory and the social world have been for survival … We learn about rewards and threats from others. It makes sense that our minds would be particularly attentive to the activities and thoughts of people and remember the information conveyed by them.”
Nicholas Christenfeld, another author of the study, notes, “One could view the past 5,000 years of painstaking, careful writing as the anomaly. Modern technologies allow written language to return more closely to the informal, personal style of preliterate communication. And this is the style that resonates and is remembered.”
So will textbooks henceforth be composed in tweets? Will editors be relegated to breadlines? No. But that doesn’t mean change isn’t coming, researchers say. Knowing this could help in the design of better educational tools as well as offer 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.