According to a new study, smartphone use can actually improve people’s memory skills.
According to scientists, rather than making us lazy or forgetful, digital devices provide a valuable service by storing very important information of low complexity, freeing up our brains to remember other things.
According to the University College London team, using a phone as an external memory helps people remember not only what is stored in the phone, but also unsaved information.
Neuroscientists have previously expressed concern that excessive use of technology could impair brain function.
The team created a memory task to be played on a touchscreen digital tablet or computer for the study. The test was taken by 158 people ranging in age from 18 to 71.
“We wanted to see how storing information in a digital device affected memory abilities,” said lead author Dr. Sam Gilbert. “We discovered that when people were permitted to use an external memory device, the device assisted them in remembering the information they had saved into it.”
Participants were shown up to 12 numbered circles on the screen and were instructed to remember to drag some to the left and some to the right. At the end of the experiment, their pay was determined by the number of circles they remembered to drag to the correct side.
One side was labeled ‘high value,’ which meant that remembering to drag a circle to that side was worth ten times as much as remembering to drag a circle to the other ‘low value’ side.
Before performing this task 16 times, they had to use their own memory on half of the trials and were allowed to set reminders on the gadget for the other half.
According to the findings published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, participants tended to use digital devices to save the details of the high-value circles. They improved their memory for those circles by 18% when they did so.
Even though they had never set any reminders for low-value circles, their memory for them improved by 27%.
The findings also revealed a potential cost to using reminders. When the low-value circles were removed, the participants remembered them better than the high-value circles, indicating that they had entrusted the high-value circles to their devices and then forgotten about them.
“This was not surprising, but we also discovered that the device improved people’s memory for unsaved information,” Dr. Gilbert said. “This was due to the fact that using the device changed how people used their memory to store high-importance versus low-importance information.”
“When people had to remember things on their own,” he explained, “they used their memory capacity to remember the most important information.” “When they could use the device, they saved important information into it and used their own memory for less important information.”
He also stressed the importance of backing up important data in case the device fails.