Psychologists Matthew Fisher, Mareil Goddu, and Frank Keil at Yale University published a study on March 30, 2015 (“How the Internet Inflates Estimates of Internal Knowledge”) that found that using a search engine, like Google or Yahoo, that provides access to an enormous body of information, makes people feel smarter than they are. Lead researcher Fisher explains: “The Internet is such a powerful environment, where you can enter any question, and you basically have access to the world’s knowledge at your fingertips. It becomes easier to confuse your own knowledge with this external source. When people are truly on their own, they may be wildly inaccurate about how much they know and how dependent they are on the Internet. With the internet, the lines become blurry between what you know and what you think you know.”
The study, involving more than 1,000 participants, compared two groups: one that was allowed to use a search engine to look up answers to questions, and a control group that was provided the answers on a sheet of paper. In each case, the group with access to the Internet, let’s call this the Google group, believed they were more smarter than the control group. In a followup situation, when neither group had the correct answer (could not find answers on Internet, and no answers printed out), the Google group continued to feel smarter than the control group. In other words, the cognitive effects of being in “search mode” are so strong, that the Google group still felt smarter even though their online searches did not help.
So what is the potential consequence of this inflated sense of intelligence? Fisher answers, “In cases where decisions have big consequences [e.g., statesmen and politicians], it could be important for people to distinguish their own knowledge and not assume they know something when they actually don’t.” There have been several studies in recent years that indicate that the the Internet is actually making us dumber; however this new study shows that we are getting dumber, but paradoxically, we are feeling smarter. O brave new world, that has such people in’t!
For further reading: www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/xge-0000070.pdf