Digitally storing information frees up memory in the brain

The next time you want to remember a piece of information, save it as a file on your phone or computer. The act of digitally storing files boosts memory and the brain’s ability to remember future events. This is because the brain knows the original information is safely stored, which ultimately frees up cognitive resources that can focus on learning and remembering new facts and figures.

Benjamin Storm, assistant professor, University of California, says: “Saving acts as a form of offloading. By ensuring that certain information will be digitally accessible, we can re-allocate cognitive resources. We tend to think of forgetting as happening when memory fails, but research suggests that forgetting plays an essential role in supporting the adaptive functioning of memory and cognition.”

Students used computers to study pairs of PDF files. The students had 20 seconds to study File A before closing it, with half being told to save it. They then studied File B, and were tested on the details on both. Students remembered more from File B when they had saved File A than when they simply closed it

Professor Storm says: “By treating computers and other digital devices as extensions of memory, people may be protecting themselves from the costs of forgetting while taking advantage of the benefits.”

“Coming up with a new idea or solving a problem often requires that we think outside the box, so to speak, and forgetting previous information allows us to do that,” says Professor Storm. “By helping us to reduce the accessibility of old information, saving may facilitate our ability to think of new ideas and solve difficult problems.”