January 15, 2013
Is Facebook Returning Humankind To Its Evolutionary Roots?
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
In the earliest days of man, we communicated with one another in short burst, usually to alert one another to impending trouble or to get across an urgent point. According to a new study, those short Facebook updates, replete with grammatical errors and sticking keys, are allowing us to communicate this way once more. As a result, we´re more likely to remember Facebook posts than any other form of written word — evidence that our brains are attuned to receive information in natural and spontaneous bursts of thought.
This research, performed by Dr. Laura Mickes at the University of Warwick and Professors Christine Harris and Nicholas Christenfeld at the University of California in San Diego, found that not only are humans more likely to remember posts to Facebook over selections from books, but we´re also more likely to remember them over pictures of one another.
To perform this research, the team took anonymous Facebook status updates and stripped them of their context and affiliation to the giant social network. The researchers then set these updates next to other passages of the written word and pictures of human faces. In the first set of tests, participants were one and a half times more likely to remember what was said in the Facebook posts than the sentences pulled from books.
“We were really surprised when we saw just how much stronger memory for Facebook posts was compared to other types of stimuli,” explained Dr. Mickes in a statement. “These kinds of gaps in performance are on a scale similar to the differences between amnesiacs and people with healthy memory.”
In a second memory test, participants were nearly two and a half times more likely to remember Facebook posts than anything else seen during the test. Dr. Micke and team believe humans are more likely to remember these posts because they´re delivered in a free and spontaneous way, often containing granular pieces of “information” which are often quite gossipy in nature.
Looking deeper into the results, the researchers also believe this type of information is written in a way the human brain thinks. Rather than dressed up for journalistic, academic or other literary purposes, this kind of language is much closer to “natural speech.”
“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,” explains Harris.
"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.”
Despite the technological advances and the evolution of the written word over the last 5,000 years or so, Dr. Mickes says our brains are still tuned to remember these “pre-literate” forms of communication. Rather than use this study as proof that Facebook is generally making civilization dumber. Mickes explains, this study could be used to show the types of information our brains are wired to remember.
“Writing that is easy and quick to generate is also easy to remember — the more casual and unedited, the more ℠mind-ready´ it is,” says Mickes. “Knowing this could help in the design of better educational tools as well as offering useful insights for communications or advertising.”