Using External Storage For Our Brains Makes Us More Efficient Human Beings, According To Research

Since the winter holidays are fast approaching, a lot of you are probably making plans already.

Whether you’re going on a vacation trip or just simply planning the Christmas menu, no doubt you’re putting multiple things on your plate right now.

PHOTO: Unsplash/Marten Bjork

But how do you go about making plans more efficiently? Maybe you have the Reminders app on your phone, or maybe you’re even utilizing the Notes app like some people I know. If you’re already doing this, then you’re on the right track!

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General suggests how creating a to-do list can exponentially make us more efficient.

One relatable experience would be going to get groceries and trusting yourself to get whatever you need. I’m not saying I’m speaking from experience… But I am.

My mom would tell me things before I go, reminding me of what I needed to buy and only to get what is truly needed, and then I’d prepare to head out. I’d go to the grocery store, pick out the things I’m supposed to buy, and then go home. A day well spent! But not really, because then my mom would scold me and tell me that out of all the things to forget, I’d failed to buy coffee and her shampoo. (My bad, mom. I’ll do better from now on.)

PHOTO: Unsplash/Tara Clark

With my embarrassing blunder out of the way and knowing what I know now, I should’ve made a list before doing any shopping. Not only does it ensure that I get what is needed, but making a to-do list allows our brain to save valuable space, and it actually improves our memory.

The researchers explain that humans are able to remember things by either storing them internally in the brain or externally by writing them down. Think of our brains as our phones or computers and what happens when they run low on memory – they slow down. If we keep storing things in our brains, we’re kinda overloading them with info, and it makes things cluttered up there.

In the study, they made use of a computer game to simulate how their theory works. The game had simple instructions: move colored circles to their designated sides of the screen. Each time the participants move a circle, a new one appears on the screen. The challenge is that the participants needed to remember which colors the circles flashed when they first appear on the screen.

PHOTO: Unsplash/Blackcreek Corporate

At the end of their experiment, the participants were compensated depending on their performance. One colored circle in the game was worth 10 times more than the other circles, and the researchers found that more people tended to remember the high-valued circles and that improved not only their accuracy but their overall performance, including their memory of the low-valued circles.

The authors wrote, “These results imply that value-based offloading can lead to a cognitive spillover effect from high- to low-value content.”

However, using external storage can be disadvantageous if used often, as our brains end up relying too much on it. When the researchers removed the participants’ reminders, they quickly forgot the colors that their offloaded circles had flashed.

PHOTO: Unsplash/Annie Spratt

It’s important not to overload our brains, but it’s essential that we still exercise our internal storage. Doing so ensures that our brains perform optimally.

“If a memory tool fails, we could be left with nothing but lower-importance information in our own memory,” said the study’s author.

People, Pets & Planet

Help where it’s needed most at GreaterGood for free!