Such results shouldn't alarm people, Sparrow cautioned. "I don't think that the parts of our brain that can remember information are atrophied," she said. While the Internet is fairly new, the act of relying on external resources for memory is not new for humans. People have long relied on friends, co-workers and family to keep track of information that they themselves have forgotten. The researchers call this phenomena "transactive memory."
"We've always done this sort of thing, allowed certain types of information to be stored with other people," Sparrow said. "Computers and access to online information work in similar ways."
Sparrow may next investigate if people memorize different kinds of things now that search engines are capturing all the details of what they used to memorize. Freed from the burden of remembering specifics, people could possibly better understand the larger meaning of the material they learn.
"Will people who don't focus so much on remembering who, what and where be better at answering conceptual type of questions?" she said.
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