Cognitive Offloading: Study shows Google is replacing our brains

Who lost Superbowl XXV? Where was President McKinley shot? What movie featured Jim Carrey with God-like powers? We used to have to rack our brains or phone a friend to get answers to questions like these, but now – all you have to do is whip out your trusty smartphone.

According to a new study published in the journal Memory, our reliance on the internet changes our problem-solving process. The study found internet users tend to rely on the web as a memory aide, a phenomenon they called ‘cognitive offloading’.

Science Through Trivia

In the study, volunteers were first split into two groups and then asked to answer difficult trivia questions. One team used their own brainpower, and the other was permitted to use Google. Volunteers were then offered the chance to answer later easier questions by the technique of their choice, recall, or Google.

Volunteers who used the Internet were more prone to use Google for later questions compared to those who used their memory. The Google group also spent less time testing their own memory before grabbing the Internet; they were not only more prone to do it again, they also did it much more rapidly. Remarkably, 30 percent of volunteers who prior consulted the Internet didn’t even try to answer a single question from memory.

“Memory is changing,” study author Benjamin Storm, a human memory expert from the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a news release. “Our research shows that as we use the Internet to support and extend our memory we become more reliant on it. Whereas before we might have tried to recall something on our own, now we don’t bother. As more information becomes available via smartphones and other devices, we become progressively more reliant on it in our daily lives.”

The new study indicated using a particular technique for fact finding has a marked impact on the likelihood of future repeat behavior. Future research may indicate any effects on human memory caused by our attachment to exterior information sources.

The researchers noted that the Internet is more extensive, trustworthy and faster on average than our memory, borne out by the more precise answers from volunteers in the Google group. With an untold amount of data just a Google search away, the need to recall trivial facts, numbers and statistics is inevitably becoming less needed to function in day-to-day life, the researchers said.


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