Is technology moving faster than our brains can healthily adapt? Research suggests that this might be the case.
Our reliance on the Internet and technology may be impacting our thought processes for problem solving, recalling facts and learning, suggests the study published in the journal Memory.
The researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz and University of Illinois, Urbana found our habit of relying on the Internet as a memory aid, or ‘cognitive offloading,’ increases after each time we use it.
“Memory is changing,” lead author Dr. Benjamin Storm said in a statement.
Storm, along with Sean Stone and Aaron Benjamin, sought to find out what the likelihood would be for a person to reach for their smartphone or tablet when asked to answer questions. The researchers split the participants into two groups and asked them a series of trivia questions. One group could only use their memory to answer, while the other group was permitted to use Google. Later, all participants were allowed to choose their preferred method when asked easier trivia questions.
The researchers found that the volunteers who first used the Internet to answer trivia were much more likely to use Google again to answer the easier questions. Participants also spent less time searching their memory for answers before turning to the Internet for help. These same participants were seemingly more likely to turn to the Internet again, sometimes at an even greater speed.
“Our research shows that as we use the Internet to support and extend our memory we become more reliant on it,” Storm said. “Whereas before we might have tried to recall something on our own, now we don’t bother. As more information becomes available via smartphones and other devices, we become progressively more reliant on it in our daily lives.”
Surprisingly, nearly 30 percent of participants who had previously used the Internet for help failed to even attempt to answer one simple question using only their memory.
This is not the first time experts have pointed to the Internet as a source of mental disruption. Many experts warn that our digital obsession has permeated almost all aspects of our lives. In fact, new disorders have sprouted from it, as Time Magazine explains.
Here are three new mental disorders that revolve around Internet and technology use.
“No-Mobile Phobia,” otherwise known as “nomophobia,” is the feeling of panic when a person loses or is separated from their smartphone or tablet. This phobia may be more prevalent than you think. According to a survey in the UK, nearly 73 percent of those who responded felt panicked when they misplaced their phone. For about 14 percent of respondents, their panic turned into desperation.
Addiction to our devices might be sneaking its way into the bedroom and negatively impacting our relationships. A 2014 study surveyed 143 people, half of which reported that their devices interfered with leisure time and meals with their significant other. The researchers called this “technoference.” The more technoference, the lower level of satisfaction people had in their relationships and life.
“We would still hypothesize that when partners experience what they perceive to be an interruption due to technology, their views of the relationship are likely to suffer, especially if these interruptions are frequent,” said Brandon T. McDaniel, one of the study’s authors.
Hypochondria — a disorder that’s been around for a long time — is when a person is abnormally anxious about their health and has unfounded fears about contracting diseases. Cyberchondria essentially builds upon hypochondria. Cyberchondria is when people research the Internet in an attempt to self-diagnose themselves — something most people have done — but then fall into an obsessive wormhole of research and become neurotic about associating their symptoms with a dreaded disease.
Danielle Tarasiuk is a multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published on AllDay.com, Yahoo! Sports, KCET, and NPR-affiliate stations KPCC and KCRW. She’s a proud Sarah Lawrence College and USC Annenberg alumn.