I know a grand total of about five phone numbers off by heart. One is mine — not the landline, though, still have to double-check that one — and one is my parents', who haven't changed their number since the '60s. (Or their phone, for that matter.) It's a common phenomenon: The more easy-to-access information is being stored for us elsewhere, the less our brains are required to retain it on their own. And a new psychological study confirms that, the Times reports.
The study, led by Columbia psychology professor Betsy Sparrow, set about testing whether or not people would be more or less likely to recall something they knew they could find on a computer. Four experiments were staged. In one, participants typed 40 trivia facts into a computer. Half of them were told the information would be saved, the other half that it would be erased. As the researchers expected, the half who were told the information would be erased were significantly more likely to remember the information than the other group.
In another experiment, the participants were asked to remember not just the facts, but which of five color-coded folders they were place into on a computer desktop. They found that the people were able to recall the folders pretty easily. That experiment was exploring a concept known as "transactive memory" — a relatively recent theory which proposes that groups encode, store and retrieve knowledge collectively.
Sparrow explains it this way:
"I love watching baseball. But I know my husband knows baseball facts, so when I want to know something I ask him, and I don't bother to remember it."
Basically, Wikipedia is making us dumber than ever. And yes, I used it for this post. [NYT, photo via Shutterstock]