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Smartphones can improve memory, research found

September 23, 2022

Neuroscientists and experts around the world have expressed concerns that the overuse of technology could result in the breakdown of cognitive abilities and cause “digital dementia”. However, a new study by University College London (UCL) suggests that using a digital device as external memory not only helps people to remember the information saved into the device, but also helps them to remember unsaved information too.

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, was undertaken by 158 volunteers aged between 18 and 71. Researchers developed a memory task to be played on a touchscreen digital tablet or computer. The results found that participants tended to use the digital devices to store the details of the high-value circles. And, when they did so, their memory for those circles was improved by 18%. Their memory for low-value circles was also improved by 27%, even in people who had never set any reminders for low-value circles.

However, results also showed a potential cost to using reminders. When they were taken away, the participants remembered the low-value circles better than the high-value ones, showing that they had entrusted the high-value circles to their devices and then forgotten about them.

“The results show that external memory tools work. Far from causing ‘digital dementia’, using an external memory device can even improve our memory for information that we never saved. But we need to be careful that we back up the most important information. Otherwise, if a memory tool fails, we could be left with nothing but lower-importance information in our own memory.”, senior author, Dr Sam Gilbert said.

Source: UCL | Journal of Experimental Psychology: General