Study: Internet Searches Causing Us to Think We're Smarter Than We Really Are

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The next time you perform a web search on Google or Yahoo be sure to remember that you’re not actually as smart as you think you are. Internet searches are convincing us that we’re smarter than we are, says a new study by Yale University psychologists.

According to the latest study, surfing the Internet for various tidbits of information gives people the false impression, or "widely inaccurate view," that they’re intelligent. The experts warn this could generate over-confidence and a false sense of self-esteem, which could then lead to the bad decisions down the line.

The Google Generation

Researchers came to this conclusion when they performed a series of experiments on study participants. More than 1,000 students had taken part in the research study. In one test, an Internet group had been provided with a link to a website that explains "how does a zip work?" and the other group was given a print-out sheet with the same information.

Later, the two groups were asked an unrelated question - "why are cloudy nights warmer?" - the group using the Internet thought they were more knowledgeable on the matter, even though they were not permitted to seek the answer online.

Overall, the students conducting searches online believed they were a lot more knowledgeable about a subject or topic than those who studied the topic by reading a book or speaking with a tutor. Moreover, these same people thought their brains were sharper.

"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," said lead researcher Matthew Fisher in a statement. "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."  

In conclusion, Yale psychology professor Frank Keil averred the cognitive effects of web searches were so powerful that it made people feel smarter even when the Google, Bing and Yahoo searches weren’t of much help to them.

"With the internet, the lines become blurry between what you know and what you think you know," Fisher told the London Telegraph. "Accurate personal knowledge is difficult to achieve, and the Internet may be making that task even harder." 

Our Minds are Changing

Although the results are generating headlines worldwide, some experts aren’t that concerned about it. Clive Thompson, author of the book "Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better," told the Washington Post that we’re rarely on our own. He used the example of effectiveness: does it really matter if a mechanic fixed an engine based on memory or an online search?

With readily available access to the Internet through the means of smartphones and tablets, this issue could become exacerbated in the future, particularly among the offspring of millennials. Instead of retaining valuable information from memory, will we just become a society of brain dead humans turning to the Internet for an answer to every single question we have? Perhaps, and this could become a very dangerous situation.


Do you think the internet and is having an effect on your ability to retain information? Or do you think this is a scare story? Your thoughts and comments below please...

Washington Post
London Telegraph