Now, more than ever, cutting edge information and technology are right at our fingertips. With the growth of the Internet Age, scientists are giving thought to the effects Internet use may have on cognitive functioning. A variety of opinions surround the question of ways Internet use could affect cognition, specifically memory. Some researchers believe the Internet can be a resource for improving memory, while others disagree with this idea.

Ways Brain Games Affect Memory

On one side of the argument, the Internet offers access to tools purported to help improve brain function and memory. There are a variety of websites offering “brain games” and “memory improving challenges.” A team of researchers from Florida State University addressed these assertions head-on in an attempt to clarify whether or not “brain games” actually improve memory.

The theory behind brain games suggests that improving one’s ability to perform a task requiring the use of “working memory,” such as a crossword puzzle, will have a positive effect on overall memory and cognitive functioning. To test this theory, several groups of participants were asked to complete a variety of “brain games.” The researchers found no positive correlation between improvement in the game or task and improvement in everyday cognition. In essence, there was little evidence to indicate that  a person might better remember where they parked their car as a result of having played brain games on the internet.

Internet’s Impact On How We Store Memory

With a world of information at the click of a button, researchers have found that the Internet is changing the way people remember information. One study, in particular, showed that when a person knows that information can be easily accessed again in the future, the information is less likely to be stored in the memory, resulting in difficulty with information recall. However, what is retained and easily remembered is how the information can be accessed. Therefore, a change is occuring in the type of information being stored in memory.

According to researchers, this “cognitive offloading,” or the reliance of another resource to retain information, is resulting in greater dependence on the Internet. The more a person relies on the internet for information retrieval, the less memory is reinforced. In a recent study, participants were separated into two groups and asked to answer several trivia questions. One group was given access to the Internet, the other group was not. Afterwards, all participants were given new questions and an option to use Internet or not. Researchers observed that the participants who used the Internet originally were much quicker to revert to use of the Internet during the second round of questions in comparison to the group that was not given an option of Internet initially. The results suggested that, in the least, the use of Internet impacts a person’s future decisions on methods for recall and fact-finding. 

The impact of Internet use on memory seems to go beyond simply changing how quickly one reverts to the Internet. As information becomes more accessible via the Internet, it appears that many people are finding that memorization of facts and numbers for daily life is becoming less of a necessity.

The Internet Domino Effect  

Concerns have surfaced in consideration to the ways the Internet may impact cognitive functions such as memory, particularly in young adults and adolescents. Researchers have discovered a correlation between increased use of Internet and a decrease in activities known to strengthen memory. Often, students who spend more time on the Internet spend less time involved in physical exercise, new experiences and social interactions. Each of these activities are vital for brain development and cognitive functioning such as memory.

References

Mills, K. L. (2014). Effects of Internet use on the adolescent brain: Despite popular claims, experimental evidence remains scarce [Abstract]. Trends in Cognitive Sciences,18(8), 385-387. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2014.04.011

Think brain games make you smarter? Think again, FSU researchers say. (2017, August 08). Retrieved from http://news.fsu.edu/news/health-medicine/2017/04/17/think-brain-games-make-smarter-think-fsu-researchers-say/

Wilmer, H. H., Sherman, L. E., & Chein, J. M. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5403814/