Study Says Internet Use Affects Our Memory

Reading about the cognitive effects of internet use is always highly ironic for me, because I am invariably reading the story online.  A new piece from the New York Times was no exception: it highlighted new research from a team of psychology professors at Columbia, who found that people are using the internet as their personal memory bank.  Because information is so easy to access, we remember how to find it, not what the information actually is.

Participants in the study were “significantly more likely” to remember information if they thought they would not be able to retrieve it later.  In another test, participants were asked to remember a piece of trivia as well as the computer folder it was stored in.  Surprisingly, they were far more likely to remember the folder than the information itself.

This, according to the NYT, is due to a phenomenon called “transactive memory” – where we rely on friends and family as well as reference material to store information for us, so we don’t have to remember it.  The internet, with its endless reservoir of information, seems to be drastically changing the way we store and process memories.

The researchers explained it well in the study’s abstract: “No longer do we have to make costly efforts to find the things we want. We can ‘Google’ the old classmate, find articles online, or look up the actor who was on the tip of our tongue.”

My question: is this a bad thing?  What this study seems to prove is that we are adapting to the internet’s new resources, and that the way we think is affected.  While that may sound disturbing, it’s also important to remember that the internet is extremely new, and that this adaptation is even more recent.  Surely, this change in the way we think is not irrevocable – and if, as it seems poised to do, our daily interaction with technology continues to expand, perhaps we will just begin to remember other things, rather than the trivia that used to clutter our heads.

As Betsy Sparrow, the leader of the research team, explained, “We’re not thoughtless empty-headed people who don’t have memories anymore. But we are becoming particularly adept at remembering where to go find things. And that’s kind of amazing.”

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Photo from MoneyBlogNewz via flickr.


Mark Bill
Past Member 2 years ago

Way cool some valid points! I am grateful for you making this post on hand; the rest of this website is also first-class. Have a great fun.

Arianna T.
Arianna T4 years ago

Well, the internet obviously has its pros and contras: on one hand, it does affect our memory as it is told here, on the other hand, it gives us the change to get in contact with much more information we could possibly get without it.

Morgan Getham
Morgan Getham5 years ago

When I was in college (back WAYYYYY before the internet, in the 1960's) we were taught that an educated person was one who did not KNOW everything, but knew how to FIND things, and how to REASON with them once they were located.

That being the case, this would seem to indicate that the internet is a vast improvement over prior methods of accessing knowledge (although it admittedly it does not make it correspondingly easier to reason to correct conclusions ,,, just gives us some better tools for disqualifying erroneous conclusions much more quickly IF one knows how to use them).

It HAs, to a certain extent, averted what author and avid library partisan Robert A. Heinlein called "the crisis of the librarian: the accumulation of bodies of knowledge far faster than humanitiy's ability to index it in any meaningful way. Mind you, this is not a SOLVED problem, and the same internet also led to a quantum explosion of the rate of information addition. But at least things are better and more accessible than they were.

Chairein Calayca
Chairein Calayca5 years ago

that sounds a little scary. i wouldn't have realized it, had this article been published. i just think it's about time people stop getting too independent on the internet. let's face it! the internet is such an indispensable tool, we feel like we can't live without it. but you see sometimes, not all information posted on the internet are true and correct. anyone can post what he or she has to say. nobody corrects anybody. so, i suggest we should use the internet wisely and in moderation. :)

Robbie Dalziel
Robbie D5 years ago

I've learnt and remembered far more from searching the internet, than I've forgotten... So for me. it's been more a step into the future, rather than a meander down some memory lane...

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim6 years ago

Our minds are becoming lazy...

Khat Bliss
Past Member 6 years ago

We all still have brains don't we? The internet is great for retrieving massive amounts of information, just because it is, do we just "instinctively" forget information because the internet stores it. We have computers for brains, I suggest using that too. Information is information anywhere you get it, books or computers. Knowledge is when you can USE the information. Peace.

mrs v.
valerie murphy6 years ago

internet is fine until it goes down

Christa Deanne
Oceana Ellingson6 years ago


J C Bro
J C Brou6 years ago

convenience is what is killing the book, not the internet