The Internet Changes What We Remember

A recent psychological study in Science suggests we may be changing the way we store memory. Instead of remembering facts and information, we have started to remember where we can find the information online.

Photo by lyrandian.

Researchers in the study say the internet acts as "transactive memory", meaning we recognise it as an external memory source. The idea isn't new; throughout history we have associated certain people with an expertise to answer our questions, but in this case, we're doing the same thing with the internet.

One of the experiments in this study provided a set of facts to two groups of participants and asked them to remember them. Half of the group was told these facts would remain in folders on a computer, while the other half were told they would be deleted. Participants who knew the files would be erased performed significantly better in a memory test than those who knew they could pull up the information later.

Lead author Dr Betsy Sparrow told the BBC" "This suggests that for the things we can find online, we tend to keep it online as far as memory is concerned." The participants in the study tended to remember the location of information rather than the information itself.

Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips [Science via BBC News]


    So it seems my husband is using me as an external hard drive! Next time he asks me 'where is the sticky tape?', I will reply "I don't know". Maybe then he will remember where it is.

    Hmmm, i just listened to this topic, and i had gotten a different idea from it.

      [i]Science 15 July 2011:
      Vol. 333 no. 6040 p. 365
      DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6040.365-b
      Science Podcast
      The show includes the effects of Google on memory, the stressful lives of alpha male baboons, science in Egypt, and more.[i/]

    Not 'where' for me - but what is the keyword. Where is always Google.

    Yup, this is totally true!
    I recognised myself doing this back a few years ago.. So I started to change the way I think. Makes it even harder if you have the interenet in your pocket (phone).

    I guess it's much along the same lines of the use of calculators in schools today; the students are taught how to operate the calculator to get the required answer, but have very little idea how those functions actually work.

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