How Does Technology Affect Our Memory?

Jason R. Finley | Farah Naaz

Washington University in St. Louis

$4,450Next Goal
This project was funded on:
7 March 2014
We humans have always used our surroundings to extend our memory. But is the technology of today enhancing human memory, or replacing it? We plan to gather survey data and run internet-based psychology experiments to find out:
How are people currently using technology for memory purposes?
How well do people understand the technology and their reliance on it?
Are there ways to improve the interplay between technology and human memory?

What is the context of this research?

There has been a fair amount of psychological research on how people can use mnemonics (memory strategies) to improve their memory. However, very little research has been done on the effects of external memory aids (everything from shopping lists to smartphones), even though humans have been using tools to extend their memories since the time of the earliest cave paintings.

What is the significance of this project?

In today’s age of global information technology, we have the ability to look up whatever information we need, whenever we need it. Smartphones, tablets, notebook computers, Google glasses, and whatever else comes next: we are eager to adopt new technology without truly understanding how such cognitive enhancements may interact with our biological memory. We aim to begin exploring how technological tools affect human memory and wellbeing.

What are the goals of the project?

We plan to use surveys and experiments to find out:

  • How are people currently using technology to aid memory in everyday life?
  • What are the trade-offs between human memory and external memory aids, and how well do people understand the relative strengths and weaknesses?
  • Are there ways to improve the interplay between technology and human memory?


Budget Overview

We will be using every single dollar of funding for payment of human participants. We will use Amazon's Mechanical Turk service to recruit and pay people for participating in the surveys and experiments we will design. All surveys and experiments will be conducted over the internet, so we will avoid overhead costs typically associated with conducting psychology research in a physical laboratory.


  • $30 donation: We will send you an autographed personalized copy of the first publication to result from this research.
  • $100 donation: We will thank you by name (if you wish) in the acknowledgements section of the first publication to result from this research, as well as sending you an autographed personalized copy.

Meet the Researcher


Jason - I have always been motivated by a sense of wonder, exploration, and discovery. I grew up fascinated with dinosaurs--not for their ferocity--but for the mystery of their disappearance. As an undergraduate at UCLA I became captivated by the notion that intuitions about our own minds are often incorrect, and that we can use science to improve our self-knowledge. That is when I started my pursuit of cognitive science.

Farah - I was born and raised in a small town by the river Ganges in India. As a child I used to dream of becoming a scientist, working in solitude trying to solve great mysteries of the world. It is during my graduate work at CBCS, India that I realized the enormity and complexity of scientific research.

Currently, we are both working at Washington University as Postdoctoral Research Associates. Our mutual interest in memory brought us together to explore this question of how technology and the human mind shape each other.

Endorsed by

Assistant professor at Williams College

This project is the brainchild of two expert scientists and the who ask innovative, pioneering questions about the...See more

Pooja K. Agarwal
Post-Doctoral Research Associate at Washington University in St. Louis

Jason and Farah are stupendous colleagues of mine! Great thinkers and doers. I've personally contributed to their...See more

Nestojko, J. F., Finley, J. R., & Roediger, H. L. (2013). Extending cognition to external agents. Psychological Inquiry, 24(4), 321-325.
Schönpflug, W. (1986). The trade-off between internal and external information storage. Journal of Memory and Language, 25, 657–675.

Crump, M.J.C., McDonnell, J.V., Gureckis, T.M. (2013). Evaluating Amazon’s Mechanical Turk as a Tool for Experimental Behavioral Research. PLoS ONE 8(3).

Project Backers

Brian ClarkababuvictorsungkhasetteemashatonyshengjouleCindy Wuvpdathdour_high_archKeisarBMoedjarbunkerkadesotoMicahKDorganickim79chershclborgmanefkendall27Kiehloreakahrsbmcbride9JoanhankchenswinebrennerpshelferichCPJpomeranian99JohnMSmartruhardzpavlickMook13aamanfirdausdcbuibridgidfinnpessisDenny LuanRickFinleyAverosealiaoldes281mtyelmeneglsignalthenoviceoofamhaunwolfgangjaneshevtsovjohnnestojkopaulbPooja K. AgarwalZygarcarolinakuppertetzeldavecylibethanyjanetdannyhorowitz5rachelryskin
Project backers