Quora .

Is cognitive offloading better or worse for a person's long-term brain development and maintenance?

This question originally appeared on Quora. Answer by Joyce Schenkein, Neuropsychologist.

This is an interesting question. We have all been stumped when trying to remember information and, in the days before Google,we asked friends to help or waited patiently until, if ever, the answer “popped” into our head. Or. we had to go the tedious route of searching books, dictionaries and encyclopedias to find it

So on the one hand, it seems like cheating to immediately Google answers rather than to tax memory. However, I’m thinking of a recent situation in which a friend mentioned that he was vacationing at one of the Great Lakes. Walking away, I asked myself to name these lakes,. (They are Lakes Michigan, Erie, Huron, Ontario and Superior, in case you’re interested) I knew there were five, but was sure only of four. And the fifth one was not coming to me. So I turned to Google to get the name of the last one,.

This is an example of offloading (perhaps a bit delayed) . But as a result I now know the complete set, whereas in the past I would have spent a considerably longer time in ignorance. More likely, I would have forgotten the question before finding the answer . Or I may have later remembered a different four of the five.

I may be wrong about this, but I do believe that before information is Googled, we try to recall the answer ourselves. The Googled response would be a way of confirming what we believe - which then positively reinforces our learning.

In any case, not all information can be Googled. Personal details, such as “Where did I put my keys?” “What was that person’s name?” “What does that smell remind me of?” When trying to remember this kind of information we go through various tricks to comb memory. And we may convince ourselves that an incorrect guess really happened.

If your question asks whether the increased tendency to Google in some way harms the memory “muscle” , I would suspect not. Those who already know the answer, don’t need to Google it. Those who use the internet, still put effort into selecting the right key words (and focusing on the concept), and then, when hitting “Go,” get dozens of hits, which provide the correct answer - a visual affirmation of the information.

Will they remember the correct answer? I don’t think this is related to the method of access. In my own experience, I keep forgetting the name of a particular movie star, remember it suddenly at random times and then forget it again. To actually recall some fact, it needs to be linked (through some mnemonic device) to information already in the data set.

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