The odds are good that you and your loved ones each have your own smartphone. In fact, the Pew Research Center estimates that 97% of Americans own a cellphone, while 85% have a smartphone.
Given the prevalence of smartphones, we often hear warnings about reliance on them. Thankfully, a recently published study in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General found that using digital devices may support individuals to remember additional information.1
Researchers analyzed the results of memory tests conducted with 158 participants, and found that use of the external storage of a digital device can facilitate memory storage of additional details in the brain.1
There are always pros and cons, but these findings support smartphone technology as a useful aid to the memory storage of the human brain.
Storage of Information of High & Low Importance
This research included three separate studies to ascertain how use of a digital device may impact memory among 158 volunteers.1
Participants were first asked to complete a memory task on a digital device, which allowed them to set reminders for half of the tasks. Most set reminders on the device for the higher value information and relied on their own memory for the lower value information.
Researchers found that volunteers remembered more of the lower value information as reminders on the device facilitated additional storage in their brains, as results showed that individuals were more likely to remember both saved and unsaved information when using reminders.
Unfortunately, a drawback of this approach is that one can lose critical information if the technology were to fail, so that should be taken into consideration when planning how to best utilize smartphone reminders.
Using Technology Strategically
Julian Lagoy, MD, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health, says, “This study tells us a lot of new things about how some technology can actually improve our memory and overall wellbeing when used correctly.”
Dr. Lagoy explains that the average reader can apply this daily by storing important information on devices so they do not have to remember it.
Especially when technology often comes with warnings, Dr. Lagoy highlights, “This study encourages us to use our devices like smartphones to store very important information, so we have a greater capacity to remember other things that are not as important.”
Dr. Lagoy explains that context is key in the use of technology. “It can be very useful and improve our overall wellbeing when used correctly; however, if used incorrectly, it can do the opposite,” he says.
While these research findings are encouraging, Dr. Lagoy notes that a limitation of this research was its reliance on studies done in a laboratory, as it would be more insightful if conducted in the “real world.”
In particular, Dr. Lagoy highlights, “Technology can be great if used correctly, but if misused, it can cause harm. This is what most of the research has been pointing out as was noted in the study.”
On a personal note, Dr. Lagoy says, “I use technology to remember passwords to websites and bank accounts. By not having to remember those details, I can put more effort into remembering other more important things in my life that you can’t store on a device.”