Is technology changing the way we use our brains?
Is technology changing the way we use our brains? Torsten Silzddp

Brain power vs technology

WHAT did we do before Google and smart phones?

If we were with a group of friends and we couldn't remember the name of a guy in the film we saw the other week, there would be collective cries of "yeah, what was his name? It's right there but I just can't remember it".

Everyone would rack their brains as they tried to drag the piece of information from the depth of their memory.

But now, when you forget something, how often do you turn to Google or a similar search engine to find the answer?

With the click of the mouse or tap of a phone or iPad, just about any piece of information can be easily accessed within seconds and this information is available just about any time we need it.

But has our reliance on Google affected the way we think and our ability to retain information?

A recent study conducted by psychologists at Columbia University determined that not only has technology changed the way we live our everyday lives, but also the way we think. The study concluded we were less likely to remember information if we knew where to find it.

Our memory of where something is located or saved has become far more pronounced, while the memory of the information itself has become less so.

The study, dubbed The Google Effect, argues human memory has adapted to new technology rather than simply relying on rote memory.

This was concluded after four different experiments were carried out by the team led by Betsy Sparrow, where they tested how people remembered information and how good they were at recalling what folders files and information were saved in.

University of Sunshine Coast School of Science and Education Associate Professor Michael Nagel said that despite the study's conclusion, researchers were still a long way off knowing the full impact of technology on memory.

"The human brain took millennia to develop. It's not going to change overnight," he said.

"Whether or not technology has changed how we use our brain is contentious."

The way memory works, it will only remember what we deem important.

You will have hundreds of conversations, stimuli and pieces of information to process each day, yet only a portion of it will be converted to long-term memory.

He said it was this factor that would determine if people remembered things rather than how they used Google. For example, if we don't think it is important for us to remember something as it can be easily accessed again, then our brain won't remember it.

"The more you think about something, the more likely you are to remember it," Prof Nagel said.

"Memory is the residue of thought."

He said memory was highly selective and gave the example of an encounter with a barking dog.

If you felt threatened by the dog, then that would be how you remembered the situation the next day: as a situation of danger.

If not, you might remember it later as just being annoying.

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