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Do smartphones cause memory loss?
© Dana Rothstein |

It’s not just you! Your smartphone might be ruining your memory

Can you remember any phone numbers other than your own? With the ability to store thousands of contacts on your smartphone, we no longer need to retain other people’s numbers.

And that is just one example of things we no longer need to remember. Social media apps can remind us when it’s someone’s birthday, calendar notifications warn us of upcoming engagements, and shopping lists keep track of things we need to buy.

So, with phones becoming smarter, are we getting dumber? Tap or click here for five health tests you can take online. Read on to see what a study found about memory loss and if your phone plays a role in it.

Here’s the backstory

A good memory is essential for navigating through life. But humans have become so accustomed to technology taking care of things that we have seemingly forgotten how to do it ourselves.

This has been made worse over the last two years as the global pandemic saw more people rely on technology to get a break from real-world events or to accomplish specific tasks.

Memory researcher Catherine Loveday conducted a study in 2021 which found that 80% of people agree that their memory got worse during the pandemic. McGill University professor Oliver Hardt agrees, comparing the brain’s memory to a muscle that must be exercised to stay fit.

“Once you stop using your memory it will get worse, which makes you use your devices even more. It’s very convenient, but convenience has a price. It’s good for you to do certain things in your head,” Hardt told The Guardian.

A particular sticking point for Hardt is our reliance on getting around through GPS navigation built into our devices. It comes down to the grey matter density in the brain’s hippocampus. This part of the brain is responsible for learning and memory.

He explains that blindly following GPS instructions doesn’t “engage the hippocampus very much,” which can lead to reduced grey matter density. Other symptoms of reduced grey matter include an increased risk for depression or dementia.

What you can do about it

Using your smartphone for only communication is easier said than done. There are certain tasks that our brains are just not good at. For example, taking a photo of an important moment will make it last much longer than our memory can.

But it comes with a caveat. Especially when technology interrupts our thought process. “One of the things that impede our brain’s ability to transfer memories from short- to long-term storage is a distraction,” explains science writer Catherine Price.

She believes in the same theory put forward by Professor Hardt, where the brain must be used frequently for complex tasks to retain a sufficient amount of grey matter.

If you rely too much on technology, Price explains, “you’re not actually going to have the physical changes take place that is required to store that memory.”

But is there something you can do to correct years of tech reliance? Research Psychologist Larry Rosen has a few tips.

  • Set a specific day aside as your “tech break” day. Try your best to get through the day without using your smartphone to remember things. For example, if you need to make a shopping list, write it down the old-fashioned way with a pen and paper.
  • If that is a bit too drastic for you, start by using your phone for one minute and then put it down for 15 minutes to focus on other tasks. After minutes pass, use it again for only one minute. Gradually increase the non-phone time until you can go a whole hour without looking at your device.
  • You can also set aside a specific time in the day to browse through social media. But when the time is up, try your best not to go back until the next day.

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