Photos of beautiful landscapes may be lovely while you look at them but it’s the photos of fellow Homo sapiens that you’ll remember long after the album has gone back on the shelf, a 2011 study has found.
Neuroscientists from MIT in the U.S. have shown that photographs that feature humans are the most memorable, followed by indoor scenes. We are least likely to remember outdoor shots of landscapes, no matter how breathtaking they may be.
“Pleasantness and memorability are not the same,” says MIT graduate student Phillip Isola, one of the lead authors of the paper.
The researchers asked 665 human subjects in the study to look through a collection of 10,000 images featuring a range of scenes, including streetscapes, interiors, people and nature shots.
They were asked to press a key on their keyboard when an image appeared that they had already seen. The images most likely to be forgotten were those landscape scenes without humans in them, while people shots were more likely to be remembered.
The results were developed into an algorithm that can predict the memorability of images and could be used by book publishers, photo editors or smart phone photo app developers, the researchers said.
Izabela Pluta, a lecturer in photomedia in the School of Media Arts at the College of Fine Arts, said the discovery could also have applications for companies that want to identify memorable images for marketing purposes.
“When we have a human figure or person, we have contact recognition. When there is eye contact, that sense of interaction is stronger and therefore there’s something that embeds itself in your memory,” she said, adding that, in her experience, images that ‘speak’ to the viewer emotionally are also usually more memorable.
“I also think colour and composition have something to do with it. I noticed a lot of the images they classified as memorable feature the colour red. The study also said images can be memorable if they feature an unexpected element, which makes sense,” she said.
“Images that are slightly uncanny or alter our expectations will stick.”
The MIT study was supported by a National Science Foundation grant and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Featured images:Jon Tyson | Unsplash