Why Does Your Brain Remember Some Photos and Not Others?

Mother and Child — iStockHands up if you’re addicted to social media! Thanks to our increasing dependence on smart phones and computers, we’re constantly barraged with images. Whether it’s photos of friends on Facebook, photos of some random’s breakfast on Instagram, or Kim Kardashian’s endless barrage of selfies on Twitter, visual storytelling and information is more abundant than ever. We take in hundreds of images a day, but only some are truly memorable. So, what makes one picture stick out in our mind, while another fades away into obscurity?

A new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggests that the reasons for image imprinting are varied — you might remember an image because it triggers a memory of an event, because it contains a familiar face, or simply because its composition appeals to your aesthetic.

Photo of Chuckanut Drive courtesy University of Washington Digital Images.
Photo of Chuckanut Drive courtesy University of Washington Digital Images.

According to another study from MIT (sigh, these guys!), we’re more likely to remember images that are meaningful to us — those we can connect to some other relevant portion of our life. For example, if you glance at three landscape photos — a waterfall, a forest, and a mountain range — you may be more likely to remember the waterfall because you grew up near water. Makes sense, right?

That being said, MIT’s study in pictorial memory shows that some images seem innately more memorable than others — even when there aren’t any “familiar elements” (like that waterfall) to give them context. This could be due to use of color (warmer tones seem to be remembered more frequently than cooler tones), focus, or composition.

Even the folks at MIT admit that there are a lot of unknowns when it comes to photo memorability, but before going to bed tonight, think of all the images that crossed your path today. Which ones stuck out in your mind, and why?

Sources: MITLifehacker

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Mehera Bonner is a freelance lifestyle and entertainment writer. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and two children.