How photography could save your brain!


posted Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at 1:42 PM EDT


While some might swear by sudoku or word puzzles, there's evidence that something much more near and dear to our hearts could help prevent cognitive decline: photography. In a study published in Psychological Science, a group of senior citizens who took a three month photography course saw a significant increase across a number of mental tasks.

The paper is summed up on a post on SciLogs, and it actually did a lot more than just look at seniors learning to snap photos. The study was of 221 subjects, with a mean age of 72. Some were taught digital photography, some were taught quilting, some were taught both (splitting their time between the two), and there was also a group that watched documentaries, did puzzles, and read articles.

According to the report:

When the researchers assessed the cognitive skills of the participants after the 14-week period, the type of activity they had been enrolled in had a significant impact on their cognition. For example, the participants in the photography class had a much greater degree of improvement in their episodic memory and their visuospatial processing than the placebo condition. On the other hand, cognitive processing speed of the participants increased most in the dual condition group (photography and quilting) as well as the social condition. The general trend was that the groups which placed the highest cognitive demands on the participants and also challenged them to be creative (acquiring digital photography skills, learning to make quilts) showed the greatest improvements.

What this research shows is that it's the mental activity of learning a tricky new skill, one that forces you to think in new ways, that seems to have the best benefit. Of course, with those 221 subjects spread over six groups, and the relatively short 14 week trial, there's room for a lot more research here. Do the cognitive benefits drop off as you become more familiar with a skill since you're not being forced to learn as much anymore? Or would they continue, since you're still being forced to view the world in a slightly different way to what you did before? Either way, we're going to hang onto our cameras for the foreseeable future. It can't hurt, and maybe we'll get some excellent photos out of it.

(via Reddit)