The internet is affecting the nature of our memory, research suggests

The way the internet affects human memory has been quantified in a new study – and the findings suggest that it is changing the way our brains remember information.

The scientists behind this research say the internet has become a “transactive memory” for us. In other words, we treat the internet like an external memory – a storage place or a memory bank that exists outside of our heads.

In experiments carried out at Columbia University, participants’ ability to recall answers to quiz questions was poor when told the answers would later be available on a computer. 

A stream of facts was presented to a group of participants – half were told the facts would be stored in computer files, while the other half were told the facts would be erased completely. When tested on their ability to recall the facts, those who knew the information would be erased had a far better recall than those who filed the information away.

However, the group who had the information stored away on a computer were remarkably good at remembering the folders in which they had stored the information.

Columbia University’s Dr Betsy Sparrow concluded: “This suggests that for the things we can find online, we tend keep it online as far as memory is concerned – we keep it externally stored.”

We are a generation that is becoming increasingly reliant on computers to think for us, find facts for us, and remember information for us. Will this over-reliance on the internet eventually make us lazy and stupid? Dr. Sparrow reassures us: “I don’t think [the internet] is making us stupid – we’re just changing the way that we’re remembering things.”

Full story: BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14145045

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About MRW

Physics person.

Posted on July 21, 2011, in Psychology, Technology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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