We all know the internet has changed the way we do things, but a new study from a Psychologist at Columbia University, New York suggests that our reliance on being able to ‘Google that’ means modern brains now remember information differently than they traditionally did.

The study, titled “Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips,” comes from psychologist Betsy Sparrow who talks about the results in this video.

The four part tests measured how we remember information. Firtly, a series of trivia questions were posed and the participants asked them to rate the difficulty of that question, then followed with a colour identification test. This is where the first alarm bells rang. When words in the color identification test were related to search engines (e.g. Yahoo and Google) then  respondents answered more quickly, effectively using the ‘search engine’ concept as a trigger to recalling the informaion.

The second part of the test saw the trivia questions turned into statements. Participants were told to read and recall these statements. However, some of the sample were told that that the information was saved and accessible again for example via a search engine. In other cases the participants were advised that the facts in the statements were not retrievable. The results? The second batch of participants seemed more able to memorise the information and recall the information at a later date.

The final parts of study then went on to reveal that when participants were shown data and shown where they might be able to find that data at a later date (ie in a specific folder on a hard drive) the subjects found it easier to remember the data location than the data itself.

Sparrow has labelled this adaptive memory, the art of memorizing methods over memorizing facts and is in fact a natural way of conserving brain power for tasks by using the memory-finding medium instead.

“Our brains rely on the internet for memory in much the same way they rely on the memory of a friend, family member or co-worker,” said Sparrow. “We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found.”

Yet despite the negative connotations that some may put on the findings Sparrow thinks it is a good thing, giving us a better focus on storing more information or at least more ways of understanding information.

Do you rely on the internet more than your brain for information?

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