Is the Computer Changing the Way Your Memory Works?

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

Are you a frequent computer user? Do you scan the Internet for information? You might be interested to know the latest health news from a recent study. According to researchers at Columbia University in New York City, before the advent of home computers and cell phones, you probably memorized a lot more information than you do now.

For the study, the researchers tested whether or not relying on technology affects memory by designing four experiments. All of the study volunteers were college students. The first experiment had 46 volunteers, and the researchers asked the volunteers two different blocks of trivia questions. Some were easy questions. Other questions were meant to be almost impossible for the volunteers to know the answer without using the computer.

Now here’s where the study authors became creative: the volunteers were then shown a group of general words, such as table or telephone, or computer words, such as “modem,” “screen,” “Google” or “Yahoo.” The research team found that participants responded more slowly to questions when seeing the word “Google.” This was because, the researchers noted, the participants had been conditioned to think about using the computer to find out answers.

In the second experiment, the volunteers answered trivia questions and typed in their answers. The research team told half the participants that the information would be saved, while the other half was told it would be erased. Not surprisingly, those who thought the information was erased remembered the details better than those who thought the information was saved on the computer.

The third experiment was similar to the second experiment, but in this final experiment, the researchers told the volunteers that all of the information would be saved, and gave them generic file names. The participants were then asked to write down on a sheet of paper as many of the answers as they could remember, and where the information was stored. The researchers found that people remembered where they had stored the information more than what the information actually was.

What can you take away from this e-health letter? According to the researchers, we might not be using the capacity we have for memory. This could be cause for concern, because it’s still necessary to perform some memorization tasks. On the plus side, the researchers speculate that, if you take away the mindset of relying on computers, it might be that people get more information out of what they are reading and they might better remember concepts and facts.