Cognitive offloading: How Google is affecting human memory

By : |August 17, 2016 0

My mom is a year short of 60 but she remembers at least twenty mobile phone numbers of people close to her including me who changes her number almost every year being constantly on the move. Not that, she doesn’t use phone book in her cellphone but she surely isn’t dependent on it like we are. If you ask me or your own self how many can we recall, I bet it won’t be more than a couple in the best performance.

You might argue what’s the need when they are all neatly stored in your smartphone and all you need is a tap to call a person. Ironically, that is exactly the point we are talking about here. According to a new study, increasing reliance on the Internet and the ease of access to the vast resource available online affects our thought processes for problem solving, recall and learning. In a new article published in the journal Memory, researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz and University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign have found that ‘cognitive offloading’, or the tendency to rely on things like the Internet as an aide-mémoire, increases after each use.

A team of three researchers- Benjamin Storm, Sean Stone & Aaron Benjamin conducted a small experiment to determine our probability to reach for a computer or smartphone to answer questions. Two groups were formed and were asked some challenging trivia questions — one group used just their memory, the other used Google. Participants were then given the option of answering subsequent easier questions by the method of their choice.

Not so surprisingly, the results revealed that participants who previously accessed the web to get information were significantly more likely to revert to Google for subsequent questions than those who relied on memory. Participants also spent less time trying on their own, consulting their memory before reaching for the Internet; they were not only more likely to do it again, they were likely to do it much more quickly.

Noticeably, 30 percent of participants who used the Internet previously did not even attempt to answer a single simple question from memory. No wonder, we could grasp and memorize all the dates and places from history book in our school and today recollecting something that happened just a week back is also a huge task.

Commenting on the findings, lead author Dr Benjamin Storm said, “Memory is changing. Our research shows that as we use the Internet to support and extend our memory we become more reliant on it. Whereas before we might have tried to recall something on our own, now we don’t bother. As more information becomes available via smartphones and other devices, we become progressively more reliant on it in our daily lives.”

This research suggests that using a certain method for fact finding has a marked influence on the probability of future repeat behaviour. Time will tell if this pattern will have any further reaching impacts on human memory than has our reliance on other information sources.

Internet is undoubtedly an all-inclusive, dependable and on the whole faster than the imperfections of human memory, borne out by the more accurate answers from participants in the internet condition during this research. With a world of information a Google search away on a smartphone, the need to remember trivial facts, figures, and numbers is inevitably becoming less necessary to function in everyday life.

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