Internet effect on memoryThe British Psychological Society’s (BPS) Research Digest  and the Scientific American both have recently discussed the effects the internet has had on our brains and our memory abilities. Stephen Kosslyn from Hardvard University told BPS that, “The Internet is a kind of collective memory.” Betsy Sparrow from Columbia University completed a study addressing how the internet has become what she calls a “Memory Prosthesis” for today’s society. College students were asked to complete a recall test of information after typing the information into a computer; half the college students were told the computer would save what they typed, and the other half was told the computer would not. The students who were told the computer would save their information, performed worse on their recall test compared to students who did not expect the computer would save their information. The same article then went on to explain that…

In another task, a group of participants read trivia statements and then typed them out, with a message telling them which folder the statement had been saved in. Ten minutes later they wrote out as many of the statements as they could, and then they attempted to recall which folder each statement, identified by a single prompt, had been saved to (e.g. “What folder was the statement about the ostrich saved in?”). The striking finding here is that participants were better at remembering the location of the statements than the statements themselves. What’s more, they were more likely to remember the location of statements which they’d failed to recall. It’s as if we’ve become adept at using computers to store knowledge for us, and we’re better at remembering where information is stored than the information itself.

In the article from Scientific American that discusses this same research study, they ask, what would we do if we did not have the internet to rely on? If we wanted to know something, or couldn’t remember something we knew but could not recall? We would have to either deal with it, or use the library to research this information, or talk to other people. They go on to add…

People may rely on their mobile phones to remember friends’ and family members’ phone numbers, for example, but the part of the brain responsible for such memorization has not been atrophied, she says. “It’s not like we’ve lost the ability to do it.” …In this respect, the Internet is just like any other memory system—the need for critical thinking does not diminish, regardless of where the information is stored.

I’ll admit, I often use the internet to look items up, or to learn about something new possibly. Though, I mostly use the internet for social media and to use databases to look up articles online to keep up on current issues… well, and obviously blog! But, do you feel you’ve come to rely too much on the internet as a memory aide? And if you, or someone else you know does, do you think that it is ok? Or do you feel it has weakened our ability to remember things on our own, and to think critically?

Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact usto learn more or to book an appointment.

The Internet’s Effect on our Memory
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