Googling Stuff Makes You Feel Smarter, But This Is A Lie

Science has discovered that Google makes us stupider. Stupiderer. Argh.

Googling Stuff Makes You Feel Smarter, But This Is A Lie

by Stevie Martin |
Published on

My most recent Google history includes 'How does fog happen', 'why do some people jump as they're falling asleep' and 'When I run I throw up' - but is this making me smarter, or just better at Googling stuff? Back in the days when Encarta was the prime source of information, or you could Ask Jeeves, it felt like searching for stuff was making you more intelligent and knowledgeable about the world, but now this information is so throwaway, so readily available, that is barely sticks in our heads. I couldn't tell you how fog is made (I remember it being something about pressure and like being a cloud on the ground, but that's it), no idea why people jump when they fall asleep (for fun?!), and throwing up after running had something to do with hydration maybe. Or not. And it's not just me - there are a number of studies published over the years backing up the idea that Google isn't exactly helping our brain power.

Firstly, a recent study found that Google isn't necessarily making us cleverer, but it makes us think we are - Matthew Fisher from Yale University and a team of researchers asked a group of participants to rate how confident they'd be in answering questions when using the internet. A control group were asked to rate how confident they'd be in answering the same questions without the internet, before all participants had to rate their non-internet confidence - the study found 'the participants who had used the Internet to search for answers were more likely to overestimate their own internal knowledge in unrelated areas.'

Basically, when we Google things, it makes us feel cleverer than we are. Which goes hand in hand with another group of four studies from a few years back that hit upon the Google Effect - the concept that, because we know information is quite literally at our fingertips, we forget what we've learned a lot quicker.

'The results of four studies suggest 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 study summary reads. 'The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.' Our brain subconsciously knows it doesn't need to retain the information, and so uses Google as a kind of external hard drive to dump our general knowledge into.

So not only does Google make you think you're more knowledgeable than you are, it's actually making us less knowledgeable than we used to be. Maybe we should go back to using big old Encyclopedias.

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Follow Stevie on Twitter: @5tevieM

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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