ChatGPT use linked to sinking academic performance and memory loss

The AI chatbot can generate convincing answers to simple text prompts and is already used weekly by up to 32% of university students

ChatGPT logo displayed on a laptop screen and OpenAI logo displayed on a phone screen are seen in this illustration photo taken in Tunis, Tunisia. (Photo by Hasan Mrad/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
ChatGPT use is linked to bad results and memory loss. (Getty Images)

Using AI software such as ChatGPT is linked to poorer academic performance, memory loss and increased procrastination, a study has shown.

The AI chatbot ChatGPT can generate convincing answers to simple text prompts, and is already used weekly by up to 32% of university students, according to research last year.

The new study found that university students who use ChatGPT to complete assignments find themselves in a vicious circle where they don’t give themselves enough time to do their work and are forced to rely on ChatGPT, and over time, their ability to remember facts diminishes.

The research was published in the International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education. Scientists conducted interviews with 494 students about their use of ChatGPT, with some admitting to being "addicted" to using the technology to complete assignments.

The researchers wrote: "Since ChatGPT can quickly respond to any questions asked by a user, students who excessively use ChatGPT may reduce their cognitive efforts to complete their academic tasks, resulting in poor memory. Over time, over-reliance on generative AI tools for academic tasks, instead of critical thinking and mental exertion, may damage memory retention, cognitive functioning, and critical thinking abilities."

In the interviews, the researchers were able to pinpoint problems experienced by students who habitually used ChatGPT to complete their assignments.

How did the study work?

The researchers surveyed students three times to work out what sort of student is most likely to use ChatGPT, and what effects heavy users experienced.

The researchers then asked questions about the effects of using ChatGPT.

DAVOS, SWITZERLAND - JANUARY 18: Sam Altman, chief executive officer of OpenAI, attends the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland on January 18, 2024. (Photo by Halil Sagirkaya/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Sam Altman, chief executive officer of OpenAI, attends the World Economic Forum in Davos in January. (Getty Images)

Study author Mohammed Abbas, from the National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences in Pakistan, told PsyPost: "My interest in this topic stemmed from the growing prevalence of generative artificial intelligence in academia and its potential impact on students.

"For the last year, I observed an increasing, uncritical, reliance on generative AI tools among my students for various assignments and projects I assigned. This prompted me to delve deeper into understanding the underlying causes and consequences of its usage among them."

What did the study find?

The study found that students who were results-focused were less likely to rely on AI tools to do tasks for them.

The research also found that students who relied on ChatGPT were not getting the full benefit of their education - and actually lost the ability to remember facts.

"Our findings suggested that excessive use of ChatGPT can have harmful effects on students’ personal and academic outcomes. Specifically, those students who frequently used ChatGPT were more likely to engage in procrastination than those who rarely used ChatGPT," Abbas said.

"Similarly, students who frequently used ChatGPT also reported memory loss. In the same vein, students who frequently used ChatGPT for their academic tasks had a poor grade average."

The researchers found that students who felt under pressure were more likely to turn to ChatGPT - but that this then led to worsening academic performance and further procrastination and memory loss.

What do the researchers say needs to be done?

The researchers suggest that academic institutions should be mindful that heavy workloads can drive students to use ChatGPT.

The researchers also said academics should warn students of the negative impact of using the software.

"Higher education institutions should emphasise the importance of efficient time management and workload distribution while assigning academic tasks and deadlines," they said.

"While ChatGPT may aid in managing heavy academic workloads under time constraints, students must be kept aware of the negative consequences of excessive ChatGPT usage."

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