The way that humans' memories work is being altered as a result of computers and the Internet. That's the verdict of a science journal published by psychologists from Columbia and Harvard universities.

The report suggests that we now use the web as "transactive memory" - something that we rely on for storing facts and details that we may need in the future.

"The advent of the Internet, with sophisticated algorithmic search engines, has made accessing information as easy as lifting a finger," reads the report's abstract. "No longer do we have to make costly efforts to find the things we want.

"The results of four studies suggest that when faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it.

"The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves."

Lead author Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University said that transactive memory, "is an idea that there are external memory sources - really storage places that exist in other people".

The report's research relied on field tests where participants were given a number of facts, with half of the group told that said facts would be saved on a computer and the other half told that the facts would be erased. The group who were told the information would not be available later performed significantly better in tests than those thinking they could access the data on their computers, but with the saved group having a detailed knowledge of where exactly the info was stored.

"This suggests that for the things we can find online, we tend keep it online as far as memory is concerned - we keep it externally stored," said Dr Sparrow. "I don't think Google is making us stupid - we're just changing the way that we're remembering things.

"If you can find stuff online even while you're walking down the street these days, then the skill to have, the thing to remember, is where to go to find the information."

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