The Language Of Your Brain Is Facebook

Status updates tap into something deeper than ordinary sentences, or even faces, according to a new study. posted on

1. Take a look at this woman:

2. Now this sentence:


“The important information apparently had indeed produced a strong impression on the traveler, because he passed his frightened glance over the buildings, as if afraid of seeing an atheist in every window.”

3. Now this Facebook update:

4. Which do you remember best? Test yourself (no cheating):

5. Did you see this woman?

vita khorzhevska / Via shutterstock.com

6. Or this one?

SvetlanaFedoseyeva / Via shutterstock.com

7. This sentence?


“The important information apparently had indeed produced a strong impression on the traveler, because he passed his frightened glance over the buildings, as if afraid of seeing an atheist in every window.”

8. Or this one?


“The unknown man was not sitting, but was standing near it, holding in his hands some booklet in a dark-grey binding, a sturdy envelope made of good paper, and a visiting card.”

9. This Facebook status?

10. Or this one?

If you remembered the Facebook status more clearly than the face or sentence, you were like most of the subjects in a study just published in the journal Memory and Cognition. Psychologist Laura Mickes and her coauthors at UC San Diego showed one group of undergraduates a series of Facebook posts and one group a series of sentences selected from books (the above are from The Master and Margarita, but Mickes’s team used new releases). Afterward, the Facebook group were much better at picking out which Facebook posts they’d seen before and much more confident in their choices than the sentence group were at spotting previously seen sentences. The researchers then tried a similar experiment with photographs of faces; again, subjects were much better at remembering Facebook posts.

So why are status updates more memorable than human faces or works of literature? The study authors thought weird punctuation and typography might be part of the reason, so they separated out posts with those elements (their example: “Del Mar Opening Day is on my birthday this year!!! :) Hellooo HATS”). But even normal-sounding Facebook posts were more memorable than excerpts from contemporary lit.

The real explanation may go deeper than exclamation points. The study authors believe it’s a combination of Facebook posts’ “gossipy” nature and their informality that makes them so easy to recall. They found that readers of news sites were better at remembering entertainment headlines than breaking news headlines — and, in a finding that may disturb some bloggers, they were especially good at recalling user comments: “sentences written casually by lay people, without professional, or perhaps any, editing, are especially readily remembered.”

The chatty, informal tone of Facebook posts, the authors explain, may make them feel like a conversation with a friend — something people are very good at remembering. Mickes et al write, “A philosophical treatise by Immanuel Kant may be more profound, and more edifying to remember, than the average Facebook post or article comment, but his writings may not be tuned so precisely to what our minds effortlessly encode. These especially memorable Facebook posts and reader comments, generated by ordinary people, may be far closer than professionally crafted sentences to tapping into the basic language capacities of our minds.”

So basically, Facebook is one of the closest approximations we have to the language of the mind. Make of that what you will.

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