Having Wikipedia on hand to resolve that argument in the pub might be useful, but it’s actually changing the way our memory works.
Researchers have found that human reliance on the wealth of information the World Wide Web has to offer, means that our thought processes are being permanently affected.
Problem solving, recall and learning are being changed by ‘cognitive offloading’ as we increasingly resort to the vast resources available at our digital fingertips.
Published in the journal Memory, the findings showed that every time we use the internet to prompt our memory our brain’s tendency to rely on it increases.
In the study two groups of participants were asked a set of questions, one group were allowed to use Google on their smartphone and the other had to rely on information stored in their head.
They were then asked a subsequent question and allowed to use whichever method they preferred.
Those who used the internet first time were shown to be more likely to reach for it again. In fact, they were not only more likely to use it, but were much quicker to choose it as the first resort than the memory group.
Remarkably 30% of participants who previously consulted the internet could not answer a single question form memory during the testing period.
Lead author Dr Benjamin Storm says that this suggests that a certain method for fact finding has a marked influence on the probability of repeat behaviour by the brain in the future.
Dr Storm said: “Memory is changing. Our research shows that as we use the Internet to support and extend our memory we become more reliant on it. Whereas before we might have tried to recall something on our own, now we don’t bother.”