08. Neuroscience

Is Your Smartphone Making You Less Smart?

September 8, 2016

Cognitive Offloading and Your Smartphone

Picture this scenario; you’re discussing a TV show with your friend that you watched last night. You’re struggling to remember the name of one of the characters. So, you ask your friend: “What’s the bad guy called again?” Your friend answers. This concept is called cognitive offloading; you’ve just offloaded some of your thought processing onto someone else. With the Internet infiltrating multiple facets of our lives, cognitive offloading has gained prominence in the neuroscience realm.

Why is that? Well, these days it’s common to offload brainwork to your smartphone. After all, your trusted device is always ready to deliver almost unlimited knowledge. Just tap on a few touches, or talk to it, and the access is yours! Could this habit, however, have long-term effects?

Smartphone Memory Study


In a new study published in the journal ‘Memory,’ neuroscientists found that cognitive offloading comes with some side effects that could impact our overall intelligence in the long run. In the study, participants were split into two groups and presented with challenging knowledge-based questions. The first group was allowed to use Google, the other one was not.

The real test came when both groups were given easy questions, as well as the choice to use Google or not. What were the results? Well, the previous Googlers spent less time attempting to recall answers. In fact, remarkably 30% of them didn’t use their memory on a single question even though they knew the answers to most. When the participants had their finger on the smartphone trigger, it affected their ability to think within minutes. So, what do this all mean?

Implications on Your Intelligence

Recall – Googling could diminish our will and capacity to remember things spontaneously.  Smart phones are relatively quick, but human thinking is much faster! Offloading to your smartphone can block us from simply remembering.

Problem Solving – Figuring out a solution usually requires both recall of information and a sort of mental juggling of thoughts to find one useful answer out of many. Internet search fosters distraction which can disrupt the flow of creative thinking.

Neuroplasticity – There’s abundant evidence now of the ‘use it or lose it’ concept, as Googling prevents activation of key brain regions for memory, which ultimately makes them become weaker.

Should you stop using Google to preserve your intelligence? Absolutely, not! Instead, use only Google when you actually need to, as this could be more advantageous in the long run. Another alternative option is to engage in regular activities that flex memory muscles to keep you on your toes.

Benjamin C. Storm, Sean M. Stone, Aaron S. Benjamin. Using the Internet to access information inflates future use of the Internet to access other information. (Source)

Featured Image: Esther Vargas under CC BY-SA 2.0

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