Research & Development

Posted by Holly Challenger, David Man on , last updated

In BBC R&D, we’re looking beyond broadcasting to consider what new services and experiences we could provide that would enhance the lives of younger audiences. As part of this work, R&D's Internet & Society team conducted a study on memory and well-being with young people aged 18-25.

In this post (part one of a two-part blog), we explain how this work came about and present the study's findings.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

BBC R&D Memory Study: Our findings in detail

Everyone will be aware of the ‘Memories’ galleries generated by social media platforms, that remind you of the photos or posts you uploaded years ago.   You’ll probably also be aware of the algorithmic assistants on your personal photo library that create albums for you, and resurface old photographs.

While these algorithms help us sort through the digital ephemera of our lives, they are not transparent or controllable by us. An article by Sara Reinis argues that by automating the process of looking back, these systems are contributing to "both the content and cadence of what we remember", the result being that "The social consensus around what is 'worth' remembering is becoming more and more tethered to the same ideal, in which all memories are visual, polished, and commercially viable" (Reinis, 2019).

We wanted to understand what a more human-centred approach to digital reminiscence would look like; so we carried out some research to uncover the needs and values of young people when it comes to curating and revisiting memories.

Why this topic?

Reminiscence has many uses associated with maintaining well-being including the consolidation of a sense of self and search for coherence and meaning in one's life.

We know from previous research conducted by BBC R&D that during the transition from adolescence into adulthood it is important for young people to take the time to self-reflect and become self-aware. However, the current generation of young people has a "constant stream of information, notifications and other tasks" which puts at risk "the development of deep thinking, critical analysis and self-reflection skills" (Lianne Kerlin, 2019).

Through our study, we wanted to discover some opportunities for the BBC to help young people to reflect, reminisce and increase levels of well-being as they transition into adulthood.

What we did

We ran an 8-day diary study incorporating cultural probes with 14 young people aged 18-25. The study pack included tasks which required participants to reflect on significant memories from their lives and share treasured possessions and mementoes.

Using cultural probes allowed us to not just focus on current behaviour, but provided a fun, creative way that participants could speculate about the role of memory and how it could help their well-being.

In our next blog, we'll explain how we developed these probes and what we learned from using this methodology for the first time.


We analysed young people's most valued memories, in relation to their wellbeing. Our analysis uncovered a number of themes:

  • Becoming independent
  • Life’s unexpected turns
  • My achievements
  • Learning from regret & failure
  • Times of struggle and difficulty
  • Shared adventures
  • Romantic milestones
  • Precious time with loved ones

chart of different key memories

 We also identified 6 core motivations for young people to look back, that enhance wellbeing:

  • To manage a negative mood
  • To motivate myself
  • To feel connected to loved ones
  • To be a better me
  • To reflect on how I’ve changed
  • To maintain connection

chart of reasons why people remember

Design principles

We have distilled our research insights into 6 ‘design principles’ for people interested in designing for reminiscence:

The lows are just as important as the highs:

As well as the high points, young people want to learn from memories of regret and struggle, use them as motivation and inspire them to be the person they want to be. But these memories are exclusively for them, not to share with others.

Flex according to my mood:

Young people need different things from memories depending on how they’re feeling and what’s going on in their life. They may need to boost their self-esteem by reflecting on their achievements or they may want to remind themselves of the people around them when they're feeling alone.

Make it social:

Looking back at the past is an activity young people enjoy doing with others. They like sharing memories from social media in group chats in the same way they enjoy looking at photo albums with family. Comments on social media memories can make them feel connected and validated.

Put me in charge:

Whether it's relationship breakdown or illness, there may be times that are harder for young people to look back on than others and will trigger negative emotions. Choosing when and how to look back at these difficult periods needs to be in their control and at their pace.

Show my journey and change:

Young people are goal-oriented and are keen to reflect on their progress. When they are persevering through periods of hard work, they want to look back to see how far they've come and seek inspiration from where they're trying to get to.

Help me express it:

Participants in our study enjoyed reflecting on memories in creative ways. Many said they found the act of writing about memories therapeutic. Others found actual drawing with pen and paper and using emoji stickers helpful as ways to express themselves without having to use words.

Find out more

Visit our Memory Study website, where we share our research findings in more detail.

Read part two of our R&D blog to discover how we developed the methodology and designed a fun, creative diary study for our young participants.

A more in-depth website containing participant data is available for BBC staff only; contact us for access.

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BBC R&D Memory Study: Our findings in detail

BBC R&D - Human Values: Understanding Audiences Beyond Demographics

BBC R&D White Paper 371, Human values: understanding psychological needs in a digital age-

Real Life Magazine, Sara Reinis- Manufactured Recollection: What does a platform want you to remember?

This post is part of the Internet Research and Future Services section