Does anyone remember phone numbers anymore? Have all those little bits of information you used to memorize migrated to digital devices like smartphones? Some argue that outsourcing our memory hurts our ability to remember things correctly, but a new study suggests that’s not the case. Using a digital device to remember certain things can actually free up our brains to remember more things in general. Unless, of course, we lose our smartphones …
About a decade ago, German neurologist Manfred Spitzer coined the term “digital dementia.” Spitzer warned that excessive use of digital devices could lead to a new kind of cognitive decline. By transferring many of the short-term memory demands to devices like smartphones, he suggested that our ability to remember things could be damaged, leading to a unique kind of amnesia.
But the idea of digital dementia was initially proposed without any real scientific backing, and some scientists suggested that using devices to store random bits of information might actually help improve our cognitive abilities, freeing up space to think about other things. Chris Bird, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Sussex, recently compared the way we use smartphones to the way we used to write things down in notebooks.
“We’ve always downloaded things to external devices, like taking notes, and it’s allowed us to have more complex lives,” Bird explained. Guardian. “I have no problem using external devices to improve my thinking processes or memory. We do it more, but it frees up time to focus, focus on other things and remember them.”
A new study led by researchers at University College London offers some strong evidence that using digital devices to store information can actually free up your memory to remember other less important things.
The researchers developed a unique memory game that presented volunteers with a dozen numbered circles on a tablet screen. Each circle had to be dragged either to the right or left side of the screen. If the circle was dragged in the correct direction, the volunteer received a small financial reward.
Half of the wheels have been classified as high value, meaning they will pay 10 times more than normal wheels. The volunteers repeated the game several times and had to remember where to drag the circles to get the biggest reward.
In the first half of the trials, subjects were instructed to use their own memory, and in the second half they were allowed to set a small number of reminders on a digital device. Not surprisingly, most subjects used digital reminders to indicate the location of high-value circles. But not only did their scores improve in placing high-value circles when they installed digital reminders, most participants also improved in placing low-value circles without reminders in place.
Sam Gilbert, senior author of the new study, says the finding highlights how using digital devices to store important information can free up mental space for memorizing lower-order information. So instead of the device impairing people’s ability to remember other things, it actually increased their ability to remember more things in general.
“This happened because using the device changed the way people used their memory to store important information versus unimportant information,” Gilbert explained. “When people had to memorize on their own, they used the capacity of their memory to remember the most important information. .. But when they could use the device, they kept important information in the device and used their own memory for less important information instead.”
The findings were not all good news, however. When subjects who used digital devices with reminders for high-value circles had their devices removed, they struggled to remember anything other than placement in low-value circles. This means that when information is stored on a digital device, the person trusts that information to the device. And if the device is hidden, this information will probably disappear.
This highlights one major difference between using a digital device to store information and writing it down in a notebook. A large number of studies have shown that writing something down on a piece of paper is effective activates a complex neural process that helps encode memory strongly. So writing something down on a piece of paper often means you’ll remember it without even having to check your notes.
But using a digital device to memorize information doesn’t work the same way. And then Gilbert notices a catch. For very important information, he suggests using “backup” storage, such as writing an extra note somewhere. Maybe it’s a valuable password or an important phone number. But as long as we have an additional backup, there is not necessarily a problem with downloading information to digital devices.
“The results show that the external memory tools are working,” Gilbert noted. – Using an external memory device does not cause “digital dementia”, but can even improve our memory for information that we have never stored. But we must be careful when creating backup copies of the most important information. Otherwise, if the memory tool fails, we may be left with only less important information in our own memory.”
The new study was published in Journal of Experimental Psychology.
Source: University College London
Transferring our memories to digital devices can really be useful
Source link Transferring our memories to digital devices can really be useful