Nothing is greater than the fantastic technology so many of us have at our fingertips these days. It’s no longer a joke to say, “There’s an app for that.” In essence, there’s pretty much an app for everything.
Think about it: you used to get lost on your way to that one restaurant but now, you’ve got turn-by-turn directions spoken to you from your smartphone. Want to know if a department store is open yet? You can surf the internet from your car to find telephone numbers and store opening hours. Need to ensure you’re getting enough exercise? Turn your smartphone into a pedometer to count your steps.
Your smartphone probably also holds your entire calendar and exhaustive list of contacts in it, complete with e-mail addresses, street addresses, website addresses, and phone numbers. Your smartphone can even tell you how to dress properly for the weather every day. If you want to know the answer to 12 X 12, you don’t have to memorize the multiplication tables anymore. Just grab your smartphone and click on the calculator.
But is relying on all this instant information really that good for our minds? Is it a bad thing to get any assistance we need immediately with our smartphones?
One study at McGill University in Montreal cited on the Physorg website revealed that people who consistently use global positioning systems (GPS) to find their ways did not score as well as people who tend to find their own routes using what’s called their own “cognitive maps” to get somewhere.
Further research determined that people who utilized their own “mapping system” using landmarks and visual information actually had more gray matter in the portion of their brains-the hippocampus-that aid memory and route-finding. The downside of having less gray matter is that it’s a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.
One of the researchers, Veronique Bohbot recommended that people use GPS only when finding your way to a new destination for the first time. After that, it’s better to rely on your own route-finding strategies. It’s better to use your hippocampus to map your own route. Doing so keeps that gray matter intact.
On the Other Hand…
Interestingly, some research has suggested that playing certain games that require quick decision-making actually improve players’ decision-making abilities. Daphne Bavelier, C. Shawn Green, and Alexandre Pouget, 3 researchers from the University of Rochester discovered that people who played video games that involved making quick decisions could more easily make quick decisions accurately in real life. In particular, those who played Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament video games tested well in decision-making. So, maybe it’s not so bad to pull out your smartphone and play some games while you’re waiting at the doctor’s office.
Another study in 2009 by Svoboda and Richards (Cambridge Journals) found that a person suffering from severe amnesia was able to learn how to use a smartphone and utilize it to improve her memory processing throughout the day.
So, even though people shouldn’t in general rely on cell phones in everyday life to find their ways from place to place, some video games you play on them might increase quick decision-making and even make someone with a memory deficit live a better life.
Aprison, Margaret. Video Games to Improve Memory? Moment of Science website
Edwards, Lin. Study Suggests Reliance on GPS May Reduce Hippocampus Function as we Age, Physorg website
Keiser, Tiffany. Study Shows Certain Video Games Improve Decision-Making, Daily Tech website
Shipmann, Matt. Keep on Playing Those Mind Games, North Carolina University website
Svoboda, Eva and Brian Richards. Compensating for anterograde amnesia: A new training method that capitalizes on emerging smartphone technologies, Cambridge Journals website
Whitbourne, Susan Krauss. Your Smartphone May be Making You Not Smart, Psychology Today website