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Tactile Exploration Helps People Remember Objects

Tactile Exploration Helps People Remember Objects

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I have written about the importance of tactile exploration for blind people who gather information about objects using their sense of touch. I think that tactile exploration also benefits sighted people.

In this post, I discuss a study showing that people remembered more details about an object when they were encouraged to touch it. The paper reporting results was published in March 2020 at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, and it is behind a paywall.

The full reference is:

Rebecca Sweetman, Alison Hadfield & Akira O’Connor (2020) Material Culture, Museums, and Memory: Experiments in Visitor Recall and Memory. Visitor Studies 23(1):18-45.

The authors conducted an experiment testing memory recall when sighted visitors were allowed to touch objects compared to viewing them in a glass display case or on a computer screen. The objects used in the experiment were from the archaeology collection at the Museum of the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

The experiment began with a study phase when 64 adult participants were presented with archeological material in three distinct formats.

display case (visual exploration)

manipulation of a model on a computer screen (visual exploration)

object handling (tactile and visual exploration)

After the study phase, the participants were given a written test with questions about each object (name, age, and description).

Most of the study participants remembered decorative objects, especially if the object showed a human or an animal.

The authors observed participants “running their fingers over the noses of figurines” (Sweetman et al. 2020:37).

Objects with abstract decorations were harder to recall than those depicting living creatures. The authors did not separate objects by color (the red jug, the black jug, or the white bowl).

Household objects were another category that was easy to recall. They included oil lamps, bowls, cups, and plates.

The sense of touch is part of a rich sensory experience that helps people recall details of an object.

The study shows that multisensory experiences are important, and the authors suggest that museum exhibits would be more memorable if they included objects that can be touched. I am 100% in agreement with them.

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