Cell phone is no longer the “villain” of memory and can improve it, says study

University College London discovered the effect of electronics on human memory

University College London discovered the effect of electronics on human memory

Photo: Yura Fresh / Unsplash

Technology is often accused of limiting human capabilities by facilitating a series of physical and mental tasks. There are those who think that cell phones and other mobile devices, for example, make us lazy or forgetful by acting as an auxiliary memory. But researchers at University College London have published a study that refutes this idea.

The conclusion of the research, published in the academic journal Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, showed that devices actually complement our native memory. They help people to store and remember very valuable information. With this, the brain starts to store less important data. The study has already been reviewed and qualified by the scientific community.

The researchers used the following method to prove this point:

  • They developed an activity linked to memory that would be played by people on a tablet or computer. The test was performed by 158 volunteers between 18 and 71 years old;
  • Participants were shown up to 12 numbered circles on the screen, and they had to remember to drag some of them to the left and some to the right;
  • The number of circles they remembered to drag to the correct side determined how much cash they would receive at the end of the experiment;
  • One side of circles was designated as “high value”, meaning remembering to drag a circle to this side was worth 10 times more money than remembering to drag a circle to the other “low value” side;
  • Participants performed this task 16 times. They had to use their own memory to remember the right side for half of the tests. Then they were allowed to set reminders on the device for the other half.

According to the results, participants tended to use electronics to store the details of high-value circles. And when they did, their memory of those circles was improved by 18%.

Memory for low-value circles was also improved by 27%, even in people who had never set any reminders for such circles.

However, the study’s conclusion also revealed that the use of reminders has a downside. When participants were left without braces, they remembered the low-value circles better than the high-value ones. This shows that they relied too much on tablets and computers to “memorize” the high-value circles and then forgot about them.

“When people had to remember on their own, they used their memory capacity to remember the most important information. But when they could use the device, they saved high-important information on it and used their own memory for less-important information,” Sam said. Gilbert of the UCL Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience and senior author on the research.

For Gilbert, the results show that external memory tools do not cause “digital dementia,” as has always been speculated. But he cautions: “We have to be careful that we retrieve the most important information. Otherwise, if a memory tool fails, we may be left with nothing but minor information in our own memory.”

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