August 15, 2022
Phones, smartwatches, other digital devices make you smarter, suggests study


Using smartphones, smart watches and other digital devices can improve a person’s memory skills, according to a new study led by UCL researchers. Research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General has shown that digital devices help people store and remember very important information. This, in turn, frees up their memory to remember additional less important things.

Neuroscientists have previously expressed concern that overuse of technology could result in the breakdown of cognitive abilities and lead to “digital dementia”.

Although test result Show that using a digital device as an external memory not only helps people remember information saved on the device, but also helps them to remember unsaved information.

To demonstrate this, the researchers developed a memory task to be run on a touchscreen digital tablet or computer. The trial was conducted by 158 volunteers aged 18 to 71.

Participants were shown 12 numbered circles on a screen, and had to remember to draw some to the left and some to the right. Determines the number of circles remembered to draw their pay to the right side at the end of the experiment. One side was designated the ‘high value’, meaning that remembering to draw a circle on this side was 10 times as long as remembering to draw a circle on the other ‘low value’ side.

The participants did this task 16 times. They had to use their memory to remember in half of the trials and were allowed to set reminders on a digital device for the other half.

The results found that participants used digital devices to store the details of high-value circles. And, when they did so, their memory for those circles improved by 18 percent. Their memory for the low-value circles was also improved by 27 percent, even among those who had never set any reminders for the low-value circles.

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

Senior author, Dr Sam Gilbert (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience), said, “We wanted to explore how storing information in a digital device could affect memory abilities.

“We found that when people were allowed to use external memory, the device helped them remember the information they had saved in it. This was hardly surprising, but we also found that the device It also improved people’s memory for unsaved information.

This was because using the device shifted people’s use of their memory to store high-important versus low-key information. When people had to remember themselves, they used their memory capacity to remember the most important information. But when they could use the device, they saved the high-important information to the device and instead used their memory for less important information.

The results show that external memory tools work. Far from causing ‘digital dementia’, using an external memory device can also improve our memory, for information that we never saved. But we have to be careful that we back up the most important information. Otherwise, if a memory device fails, we will have nothing but information of less importance in our memory.”

The research was supported by an ESRC grant and a grant from the Independent Research Fund Denmark.


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