The recently published study claims thought processes for problem solving, recall and learning are affected each time we reach for a computer or smartphone to answer our questions.
Researchers at the University of California and the University of Illinois examined the behaviour of a group of participants who used ‘cognitive offloading’ – a term that describes a kind of reliance on things like the Internet – and their abilities to then later use memory-recall as a problem-solving technique.
The study participants were given a series of questions to answer which was measured against their use of the Internet to problem solve. The findings revealed that the group spent less time consulting their memories for answers before reaching for the Internet, and they were also more likely to do it again, and much more quickly.
The results also showed as many as a third who’d taken part in the study and had used the Internet to answer the questions, hadn't even attempt to answer a single question from memory.
Study lead Dr Benjamin Storm said the data shows the more we use the Internet, the more we rely on it to support memory function.
“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 information becomes more available via smartphones and other devices, Dr Stuart said, relying on the Internet in our daily lives would be more progressive.
“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.”