Your Brain on Google

Human memory adapts to technology

Google is becoming your brain’s external hard drive. A new study shows that the regular use of search engines and online reference materials is affecting the way users remember and gather information.

The research, led by Betsy Sparrow at Columbia University, tested subjects in a series of four tests aimed at assessing how people recall pieces of trivia. The first round of experiments found that subjects were less likely to remember something if they thought they would be able to easily retrieve it from a computer later. Another experiment showed that users were able to easily remember which folder of five on a computer contained the information they were asked to retrieve.

The phenomenon is called transactive memory and has existed long before the Internet was a source of information. The concept explains that humans do not only rely on their own brains to store information rather they use other sources, such as people they know or in this case the Internet, but also to hold information that they will need to access later. Sparrow’s study concludes that today the Internet has become a primary place for storing information externally. "Human memory," Sparrow told The New York Times, "is adapting to new communications technology."