The study’s author, Laura Mickes, told NBC News:
“Facebook is updated roughly 30 million times an hour so it’s easy to dismiss it as full of mundane, trivial bits of information that we will instantly forget as soon as we read them. But our study turns that view on its head, and by doing so gives us a really useful glimpse into the kinds of information we’re hardwired to remember.”
She also states:
“We were really surprised. These kinds of gaps in performance are on a scale similar to the differences between amnesiacs and people with healthy memory.”
Mickes, along with UCSD psychology professors Christine Harris and Nicholas Christenfeld, checked to ensure that the Facebook posts were not substantially longer or shorter then a sentence in a printed book. They also made sure that other “irregularities” such as emoticons, multiple punctuation or all caps were not included in the status posts shown to study participants. Despite the posts being virtually identical to a sentence in a book, the Facebook status’ were still more memorable.
Researches were left wondering what made the status updates so memorable. One possibility was that Facebook posts represent a complete idea as opposed to a random sentence. Researches then showed participants CNN headlines in the categories of “Breaking News” and “Entertainment”. They found that the headlines were more memorable than a random sentence in a book. According to Outcome Magazine, the headlines in the “Entertainment” category were the most memorable, leading researchers to believe that gossipy type news contributes to memorability.
Christenfeld also theorizes that Facebook updates are so memorable due to the fact language capacity did not evolve to process carefully edited and polished text, saying:
“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 casual, personal style of pre-literate communication. This is the style that resonates, and is remembered.”
The UCSD study also reminds Facebook users to be careful what they post, noting that social faux pas or offensive rant may not be quickly forgotten.