Lead author Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University said that transactive memory “is an idea that there are external memory sources – really storage places that exist in other people.”
“There are people who are experts in certain things and we allow them to be, [to] make them responsible for certain kinds of information,” she told BBC.
According to the research published in the journal Science, people began to think of computers whenever they were presented with difficult questions.
Researchers found that people did not remember the exact answers when they knew that they would be available on a computer, but they could recall where they were stored.
Scientists tested a group of volunteers twice, first to find out whether they were “primed” to think about computers and the Internet when presented with difficult questions.
The team found that after presenting subjects with tough true/false questions, reaction times to Internet-related terms were markedly longer. This shows that participants were already considering the idea of using a computer when they did not know the answer.
The study also showed that those participants who knew the information would not be available later performed much better than those who filed the information away.
The second group, however, could remember in which folder they had stored the information.
“This suggests that for the things we can find online, we tend keep it online as far as memory is concerned – we keep it externally stored,” said Dr. Sparrow.
She explained that the results showed that people are not losing their ability to remember things, but they were simply organizing vast amounts of available information in a more accessible way.
“I do not think Google is making us stupid – we are just changing the way that we are remembering things… If you can find stuff online even while you are walking down the street these days, then the skill to have, the thing to remember, is where to go to find the information. It is just like it would be with people – the skill to have is to remember who to go see about [particular topics].”