Reliance on e-search is 'eroding memory'

People's memories are weakening because they have stopped memorising information, relying instead on computers and search engines, said a recent study reported by the BBC.
People's memories are weakening because they have stopped memorising information, relying instead on computers and search engines, said a recent study reported by the BBC.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER FILE

LONDON • People's memories are weakening because they have stopped memorising information, relying instead on computers and search engines, said a recent study reported by the BBC.

In a study conducted by Kaspersky Lab, a cyber-security firm, the memory habits of 6,000 adults in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg were examined.

Researchers found that more than a third would turn first to computers to recall information, with Britain having the highest proportion of people who would do so. More than half would search online for the answer before relying on their memories, reported the BBC.

Dr Maria Wimber, a lecturer from the University of Birmingham who studies human long-term memory, cautioned that the tendency to turn to computers would "prevent the build-up of long-term memories".

She said the process of recalling information is a "very efficient way to create a permanent memory".

"In contrast, passively repeating information, such as repeatedly looking it up on the Internet, does not create a solid, lasting memory trace in the same way," she said.

The study found that 49 per cent of those surveyed could not recall their partner's phone number, while 57 per cent of those cannot remember their work number. A whopping 71 per cent could not remember their children's phone numbers.

Based on its survey results, Kaspersky Lab described the Google Effect as causing the rise of "digital amnesia", in which people are ready to forget important information in the belief that it can be retrieved from a digital device.

Dr Wimber added: "There also seems to be a risk that the constant recording of information on digital devices makes us less likely to commit this information to long-term memory, and might even distract us from properly encoding an event as it happens."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2015, with the headline 'Reliance on e-search is 'eroding memory''. Print Edition | Subscribe