Smartphones may help improve memory skills, study finds

Photo (c) Guido Mieth - Getty Images

The benefits related to technology may outweigh the risks

While many consumers might be concerned about the amount of time they spend on their smartphones, a new study conducted by researchers from University College London has found a key benefit of smartphone use. According to their findings, the devices may play an important role in improving consumers’ memory skills. 

“We wanted to explore how storing information in a digital device could influence memory abilities,” said researcher Dr. Sam Gilbert. “We found that when people were allowed to use an external memory, the device helped them to remember the information they had saved into it. This was hardly surprising, but we also found that the device improved people’s memory for unsaved information as well.” 

Boosting memory

For the study, the researchers had nearly 190 participants between the ages of 18 and 71 complete a memory task on a tablet or computer. The memory assessment involved dragging colored circles to different sides of a computer screen to earn points. The participants were able to use their digital devices to set reminders and take notes to help them remember which sides were worth higher points. 

Using the devices paid off, as the reminders helped the participants remember the higher point values more frequently. The participants improved their memory of the higher-value points by nearly 20%. While many of them didn’t write down the lower-point values, knowing the location of the higher-point values improved those scores by nearly 30%. 

“This was because using the device shifted the way that people used their memory to store high-importance information versus low-importance information,” Dr. Gilbert said. “When people had to remember by themselves, they used their memory capacity to remember the most important information. But when they could use the device, they saved high-importance information into the device and used their own memory for less important information instead.” 

By using the devices to remember the most important information, the participants were able to use their working memory to remember even more. Though experts may have had concerns over too much digital device use, these findings highlight the cognitive benefits of consumers of all ages using smartphones. 

“The results show that external memory tools work,” said Dr. Gilbert. “Far from causing ‘digital dementia,’ using an external memory device can even improve our memory for information that we never saved. But we need to be careful we back up the most important information. Otherwise, if a memory tool fails, we could be left with nothing but lower-importance information in our own memory.” 

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