Facebook Status Updates More Memorable Than Books

Mark Mitchell Social Media Director, MySocialAgency

Posted on January 22nd 2013

Facebook Status Updates More Memorable Than Books

Facebook Statuses More Memorable than Books

A recent study published in the academic journal Memory and Cognition has found that users are more likely to remember a Facebook status update than lines from a book. Last year, researchers stumbled across the idea when investigating the effects of emotion on memory.

University of California cognitive psychologist Laura Mickes and her colleagues began by looking into how various statuses were used to invoke emotional responses. However, what they found was completely different from what they had expected when beginning the study.

“It was a bit of a surprise for us,” Mickes said. “It wasn’t our original question.”

The study team collected 200 Facebook posts from undergraduate research assistants, which included complaints relating to talking in the library and a comment on clean bed linen. They also gathered 200 random phrases from recently published books on Amazon.

Sentences included, “Underneath the mass of facial hair beamed a large smile,” and “Even honour (sic) had its limits.”

The scientists then selected 100 phrases from each, ensured that the context they were written in was removed, and asked 32 undergraduates to memorise them. The volunteers were then shown the words on a computer screen and asked if they had seen the comment before.

Facebook Statuses More Memorable than Books

Facebook Status Updates – one-and-a-half times more memorable

The results that came back were surprising: Facebook status updates proved to be 1.5 times more memorable than the carefully crafted words from a book. The research team then tested knowledge of human faces and discovered that Facebook posts are also twice as memorable as faces.

Intrigued by this development, the team repeated the experiment with a new group of students, to determine if they were more likely to remember status updates that reminded them of people they already knew.

It was found that “social memories didn’t seem to explain the difference on its own.” Perhaps then, the researchers thought, status updates were memorable due to their nature of being a complete thought?

With this in mind, the team decided to add newspaper headlines into the mix, since they are of the same nature, a complete thought being written specifically in order to grab the reader’s attention.

However, in this part of the experiment it was found that people were more likely to remember comments made by other readers, rather than the headline itself.

Why is "casual" chat easier to remember?

Mickes thinks that the answer to this is down to how “unfiltered” remarks made on Facebook are. The type of “effortless chatter” that tends to be posted on the social site is better at tapping into our mind’s language capabilities due to human evolution, which prioritises and remembers information from social interactions.

“Before typewriters, before the pen, before anything, we’ve been talking to each other,” Mickes said. “So it does seem [memory] goes hand-in-hand with natural language.”

This was backed up by cognitive psychologist Suparna Rajaram of Stony Brook University in New York, who added that a lack of editing makes for an easier read: “the simpler the writing, the easier it is to take away the message. I think blogs and social media really capitalize on that,” he said.

Oxford University boffin Robin Dunbar agreed, adding that “social media have introduced the fluidity of everyday conversation into written text.” This leads to an openness which is often “dangerous” to the user, as they don’t think to censor what they say on Facebook and Twitter.

What does it mean for your business?

Bearing all of this in mind, what lessons can social media marketers take away from the study? Well, it once again flags the fact that social media is a two-way conversation and those companies who fare best when using it as a marketing tool know this.

The more that a potential customer feels that they are talking to a real person, the better. So it’s much better to post "human" status updates, rather than anything relating directly to a product. This helps the consumer to remember the updates and therefore, tell a friend.

If a social media campaign is too corporate, this is not only more likely to put a Facebook user off liking a page or product, but also not to remember it well enough to mention again.

The research is an interesting and important addition to what we know about how social media works. Not only does it support the theory that people don’t like long-winded words and phrases in their day-to-day surfing, but it also gives companies a clear indication of how they can improve their own social media marketing campaigns in order to ensure interaction and engagement.

The post Facebook Status Updates More Memorable than Books appeared first on MySocialAgency. 


Mark Mitchell

Social Media Director, MySocialAgency

Social Media Director for MySocialAgency a UK based digital marketing agency. In my spare time a massive travel addict, tech and music geek. I am a deep thinker and love to add a human touch to otherwise faceless marketing content.

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Kent Ong
Posted on January 23rd 2013 at 3:31AM

Hi Mark, I don't think the statement is correct. I remember more from the books rather than from Facebook and I believe it depends on our emotion. If a status update or a chat on Facebook connect with our emotions, we can remember more, same goes to books.

Posted on January 23rd 2013 at 8:12PM

You know Kent I am really not sure. I read a serious amount of books. I do personally find some of them to feel more disposable than a digital exchange. Even when I enjoyed them!

I guess a lot depends on what kind of person you are but also, what books you are reading :)


Posted on January 23rd 2013 at 1:35PM

What an 'insightful study'! Hold on to your undergarments because it's about to get geeky. The experimental design here is so shoddy, it could be outdone at a junior high school science fair. Anybody who knows something about communication (and by something I mean things common sense tells you), context is pivotal in creating the significance of a message, lengthy or concise, in the mind of the recipient. I'm no expert, which apparently makes me as qualified as the folks who designed this study, but if you extract random phrases from a book, stripping them of their essential context you've basically collected the rantings of a very articulate person with Tourrette syndrome. Facebook status updates on the other hand gather context from the direct relation between the person posting and their 'Friends' or from popular culture. Considering how much conscious effort goes into making a Facebook status update brief and meaningful (regardless of how 'trivial' the message is) this study is basically comparing commercials to random 30 second clips from a full length feature film and expecting them to carry the same meaning. Wow! Trying saying all of that 10 times fast. Hey, at least the 'scientists' who did this study have more random text to compare to messages like "Just got engaged! I've never been happier in my life!" and further proving how much more exciting Facebook is to the average person than books.

Posted on January 23rd 2013 at 8:03PM

Hi Fernando. Thanks for taking the time to comment! It sounds like you didnt like the study. Thats a shame! I thought it made a lot of sense. I think it is down to different types of people and personalisty. Everyone is wired up differently.