Monday, 16 February 2015

Saving information to computer frees your mind to learn new material

Forgetting information that we save to
computer could have its advantages
A few years ago, researchers demonstrated that people had poorer memory for information that they were told had been saved to a computer. Technophobes jumped on the finding. "Imagine that in the future people become so used to external access for any form of reference that they have not internalized any facts at all," wrote Susan Greenfield.

Of course there are many flaws to this logic, not least that the old fashioned act of writing information down can also lead to increased forgetting. A new study has focused on another important point: forgetting information that we know is externally available could be advantageous - allowing us to free up cognitive resources to better learn new information.

Benjamin Storm and Sean Stone tested this possibility across three studies involving dozens of undergrads. The format was similar throughout. The students started by studying a list of ten words in one computer file, which they would be tested on later. Then they moved onto a second file with a new list of words to study. There was a 20-second delay then they were tested on this second list.

The critical finding is that the students performed better at remembering this second list if they were earlier given the chance to save the first list to computer. It's as if knowing the first list was stored on computer prompted them to deliberately forget it, so that they could focus all their mental resources on the second list.

Further details back up this interpretation. When the computer saving process was made unreliable - files kept getting lost - the saving process no longer boosted the students' performance on the second list. Also, when the first list was made up of just two words, meaning it placed little strain on memory, the act of saving it to computer no longer made a difference to memory for the second list.

Why else might saving information to computer help benefit new learning? Another intriguing suggestion made by the researchers is that the act of saving could provide the basis for an "event boundary" in memory, helping avoid confusion between the first and second lists. They further speculate that saving to computer likely doesn't just aid the learning of further information, but could also free up mental resources that underlie thinking and problem solving.

The researchers conclude with a Sherlock Holmes quote that captures the concept of adaptive forgetting: "... a man should keep his little brain-attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it."

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Storm, B., & Stone, S. (2014). Saving-Enhanced Memory: The Benefits of Saving on the Learning and Remembering of New Information Psychological Science, 26 (2), 182-188 DOI: 10.1177/0956797614559285

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest

8 comments:

Research Digest said...

I thought this had been proven already.

Research Digest said...

Just using your mind in a positive way will increase your cognitive skills. Stay away from negativity. Read. Learn. Walk. Always keep your mind active. Then rest.

Research Digest said...

The best most technical one is Neuroscientists Talk Shop - also most evidence-based and anti neuropop-science.

Research Digest said...

Looks are deceiving because they can be falsely enhanced to meet the eyes' approval and have a heart as black as a black hole. Everyone needs to check the content of their character and act accordingly. We all are human, that is a start. Then the natural beauty of every human. comes out. "The thoughtless are no more than animals." Nichiren Daishonin

Research Digest said...

Interesting study. But it would be useful to look at a longer sequence, e.g., information helpful for later exams. I imagine that the practical usefulness of the method of retrieval would be a factor here.

Research Digest said...

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Brian Kissell

Research Digest said...

Hello,

I just found this list, and I wanted to suggest a new podcast that I have been working on. It is called “Psychological Research Stories.” It is an interview style show which is focused on discussing current psychological research with the authors of differing studies. The podcast is located athttp://methodologyforpsycholog.... The iTunes link ishttp://methodologyforpsycholog....

Brian Kissell

Research Digest said...

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