Is technology killing your memory?
Insights takes a look at how technology is eating away at people’s powers of recall and reveals four easy tips for boosting your memory
If your shiny new smartphone died, would you be able to remember the phone numbers of your colleagues and clients? Similarly, if your SatNav failed, would you know by-heart the directions to your meeting tomorrow morning on the other side of town?
For many Britons, the answer is seemingly ‘No’, after new research showed that an over-reliance on using computers, mobile devices and search engines is weakening people's memories.
Conducted by cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab, the study found that many adults, who could recall their past telephone numbers, could not remember their current work number or those of their family and friends.
The study, examining the memory habits of 6,000 adults in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, found that 45% of British people could recall their home phone number from the age of 10, while only 29% could remember their own children's phone numbers and 43% could remember their work number. When asked to recall their partner’s phone number, only 51% of British respondents could do so compared to 80% in Italy – making Brits the worst in Europe.
Part of the reason for this poor recall in Britain could be down to extended use of search engines, with more than half of Brits saying they search online first when asked to recall something, compared to an average of just over a third for Europe as whole.
Furthermore, the easy use and accessibility of smartphones and other sophisticated technology has provided an ideal storage area to input important information, such as contact details, rather than attempt to remember it. Researchers say respondents actively use technology as an "extension" of their own brain. However, much of the information stored immediately online or in our phones is forgotten easily.
Maria Wimber from the University of Birmingham said the outsourcing of our memories "prevents the build-up of long-term memories".
"Our brain appears to strengthen a memory each time we recall it, and at the same time forget irrelevant memories that are distracting us," said Dr Wimber. “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."
But not all academics believe the use of technology to support our memory is always negative. More than ever, people are constantly bombarded with information, from adverts to road signs to music, and Dr Kathryn Mills, from UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, believes that deep trust in our connected devices is helping us filter out the irrelevant information.
She said: “The act of forgetting is not inherently a bad thing. We are beautifully adaptive creatures and we don’t remember everything because it is not to our advantage to do so. Forgetting [only] becomes unhelpful when it involves losing information that we need to remember."
Driving home from work, for example, is generally something a person would expect to remember without the assistance of technology, especially if the drivers has completed the trip 75 times previously. Equally, a worker would be expected to know how and what to do in his/her job. However, Dr Mills suggests more specific information that is only used infrequently, such as the address of a venue holding the organisation’s Christmas party or the recipe to an exotic dish, are often forgotten.
Regardless, using both technology and their own inherent cognitive skills, workers are challenged to draw on lots of different types of information and bring them together to work out a solution or to develop our knowledge of something.
So to help you boost your own powers of recall, here are four easy memory-boosting exercises you can do in the office, in your lunch break or in the comfort of your own home.
A quick stretch can improve mood and concentration, enhance cognitive performance, and even prevent cognitive decline in older adults.
A brief nap has been shown by a number of studies to boost brainpower. In one study, young adults who slept for 90 minutes showed significant improvements in memory.
Grab a pencil and draw to your hearts content, as research suggests doodling during a cognitive task stimulates the brain and helps improve memory.
Navigate Your City
From trying out a new coffee shop to walking through a different park, taking time to explore your surroundings has been found to boost individuals’ memory faculties. In one study, London taxi drivers showed structural changes in the part of the brain associated with spatial memory when undergoing training for the Knowledge.