Is the internet damaging your memory function?

A new study from Cyber Security firm Kaspersky has found that an over-reliance on technology in today’s digital age is causing worrying levels of memory erosion.


The researchers examined the cognitive functions of over 6,000 adults from the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, and discovered the widespread use of search engines to recall information is triggering ‘digital amnesia’.


“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, who led the study.


The recollection process, she explains, 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.”


But it’s not just search engines that are to blame; smartphones, computers and tablets are also playing their part:


“There 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,” explains Dr Wimber.


How to avoid digital amnesia


As students, memory recall is vitally important. Luckily, there are a few clear-cut ways to keep your memory function sharp…


The first is to take hand-written notes during seminars, lectures and quiet study time, instead of typing-up notes on your laptop or tablet. Virginia Berniger, a psychologist from the University of Washington discovered – through brain imaging – far greater neural activity in parts of the brain associated with memory when people wrote by hand than when they typed.


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“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” says Stanislas Dehaene, psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris.


“There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental stimulation in your brain. And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realise. Learning is made easier.”


Another sure-fire way to give memory function a boost is to learn a new skill, whether it’s a musical instrument, a foreign language or a craft. The evidence? Researchers from McGill University in Montreal enrolled a group of men and women onto a 10 week tango course and found vast improvements in cognitive function on completion.


“It may sound like a waste of time, but it’s an incredibly useful exercise,” says Marie Pasinski, M.D., a Harvard neurologist and author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Boost your Brain Power. “In the digital age, we’ve ceded so much memory to our phones and computers. But remembering things is a skill like any other—it requires maintenance.”


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