You’re reading this either on the Internet, or at home in the paper. You’re gathering information. And the question scientists are wondering about is whether you retain what you read.
Betsy Sparrow, assistant professor of psychology at Columbia, says that human memory is adapting to new communications technology. Since students studying for a test are more likely to recall facts they think will be on a test, she wondered whether people would be likely to remember what they casually read from their computers, knowing they could find that information again.
Dr. Sparrow collaborated with Daniel M. Wegner of Harvard and Jenny Liu of the University of Wisconsin, staging four different memory experiments. In one, participants were asked to type 40 bits of trivia such as, “an ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain” into a computer. Half of them were told the information would be saved in the computer. The other half was told that the information they typed would be erased.