Digital storage of data has become an integral part of our lives, whether in the form of contacts and calendars on smartphones or constant access to the vast stores of knowledge in the cloud. Previous research has suggested that saving information makes us less likely to remember it, presumably because we assume we do not really need to memorize something that is saved. But doing so should also free up mental resources, reasoned cognitive scientists Benjamin Storm and Sean Stone, both at the University of California, Santa Cruz. They found in a new study that saving some information enhances memory for new material.
Storm and Stone ran a series of experiments in which they asked volunteers to study a list of eight words. One group was then told to save the file, whereas the other group was just told to close it. The participants then studied a second list and were later tested on their memory of it.
The researchers found that people who saved the first file remembered more of the list in the second file, according to their paper published in February in Psychological Science. This effect was not seen if the saving process was demonstrably unreliable or if the first file consisted of only two words and so was not substantial enough to interfere with memory for the second file. It is almost as if people use digital storage as external capacity to “off-load” memory demands, the researchers posit. They suggest you can take advantage of this memory quirk by saving information you do not need immediately for later reference, thus freeing up resources for the learning task at hand.