People may abandon remembering things in favour of using information-laden search engines.
Google could be making internet users more forgetful, a new report suggests.
Researchers at Columbia University believe that people are more likely to forget something if they know they can successfully access the information they require at a later date through a search engine. In the same vein if people are aware that they will not be able to find the details they need again they will make more of a conscious effort to remember it.
Betsy Sparrow, the psychologist who carried out the study, said: “Our brains rely on the internet for memory in much the same way they rely on the memory of a friend, family member or co-worker. We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found.”
In the study participants were asked to remember key information after being told that some parts of it would be saved and other segments eventually deleted. It was found that the majority were more likely to remember the information that was going to be erased.
Researchers also concluded that participants had a higher probability of remembering how to find information than remembering the information itself, which is known as ‘transactive memory’.
Ms Sparrow said that the findings could affect the spheres of teaching and learning: “Perhaps those who teach in any context, be they college professors, doctors or business leaders, will become increasingly focused on imparting greater understanding of ideas and ways of thinking, and less focused on memorisation.”
However, Eleanor Barlow, a consultant specialising in cyberpsychology, said the findings were not necessarily related to the rise of the internet. She explained that “maybe people are more used to having to retrieve information now, but you would need to have a previous test to refer back to” in order to support the study’s conclusions.