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The price of over-availability: searching for information on the Internet impairs memory

Constant access to information on the Internet impairs a person’s memory and slows down thought processes. This conclusion was made by scientists at the University of California at Santa Cruz and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Shapmain.

“The greater the amount of information that becomes available through smartphones and other devices, the more dependent we become in our daily life,” says study author Benjamin Storm. He claims that people, without even realizing it, are already using the Internet as an “additional hard drive” in their own memory system.

He calls this “cognitive unloading”: the ability to find secondary information on the Internet at any time allows us to free up brain resources for more important purposes. In this case, as the study shows, own memory and other cognitive skills are reduced.

He suggests that this effect is especially noticeable immediately after the next session of information search in the network.

To test the hypothesis, he and colleagues, Sean Stone and Aaron Benjamin, tested students at the University of California at Santa Cruz, whose average age is about 20 years. The researchers have compiled for them a set of sixteen questions from the field of history, sports and pop culture. The experiment was conducted in a quiz format and was divided into two stages.

At the first stage, students were asked eight relatively complex questions – that is, those that, according to scientists, only some students of the University of California can answer without the help of the Internet. For example, “What did King John do in 1215?” And “Who became the next president after John F. Kennedy was killed?”

Students were divided into 2 groups. Participants of the first had to search for answers to all questions in Google Search, even if they were sure that they already knew the answer.

And the participants of the second group were forbidden to use the Internet and they had to rely on their own memory.

At the second stage, all students were asked eight more questions, allowing this time to use the Internet. The participants of the second group, who had previously managed without access to the Internet, tried to answer themselves and turned to the search engine only if necessary.

In contrast, members of the first group immediately looked for the answer in Google, although the level of tasks was much easier than at the previous stage. The authors claim that 30% of them did not try to answer even the simplest questions themselves, such as “What is Big Ben?” And “How many zodiac signs exist?”

Repeated experiment showed that participants from the first group prefer Google even if its use takes time and is rather difficult (for example, if you need to work on an old uncomfortable tablet).

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