Saving Computer Files Makes Your Human Memory Work Better

10/12/2014 11:04 | Updated 10 December 2014

Saving a computer file appears to improve your human memory, a scientific study suggests.

The act of recording something artificially appears to "free up space" in the brain, and make it easier to recall different information.

Whatever way you do it, the result is a fundamentally better ability to recall new information, the study published in Psychological Science by Benjamin Storm of the University of California, Santa Cruz says.

"The idea is pretty simple: Saving acts as a form of offloading. By ensuring that certain information will be digitally accessible, we can re-allocate cognitive resources away from maintaining that information and focus instead on remembering new information."

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The study looked again at older evidence that saving information makes it more difficult to remember that specific information. That might be true, the study says, but a side-effect is that remembering new data is made easier by the same process.

In the study, 20 students had to open and study a file containing a list of 10 common nouns. Half the students had to close the file before opening another list, while half saved the file to a specific folder first. They then studied the second file, were tested on recalling the list, and then had to recall the nouns from the first file.

The researchers found that the students remembered more words from File B when they had saved File A, than when they had simply closed it.

When the students were told the file might not have saved properly, they showed no benefits - but when they thought it was saved they did.

"As technology develops, computers and smart phones are making it easier and easier to save information, which seems to have important consequences for the ways in which our memory functions," said Sean Stone, a former UCSC undergraduate student, who also worked on the study.

"By treating computers and other digital devices as extensions of memory, people may be protecting themselves from the costs of forgetting while taking advantage of the benefits."

What's not clear is if having files save 'automatically' in the cloud would have the same benefit... We'd guess not. So if everyone you know starts forgetting your name in about six months, blame your online sync-storage method of choice.

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