Googling Might Make People Feel Smarter Than They Actually Are

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Google makes it easy to pull up just about any information that’s available, but some psychological researchers think it comes with a cost. The “Google effect,” as one team dubbed it, is our tendency to forget information that can be easily looked up. Now a new study adds a new layer to the question of what effects our endless Google-searching might have on us: There’s a chance it’s making us overconfident about stuff we don’t know as well.

Over at BPS Research Digest, Simon Oxenham summarizes a recent study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in which a team led by Matthew Fisher of Yale University tasked Amazon Mechanical Turk workers with finding the answers to a bunch of questions on the internet, while a separate group was tasked with answering the questions without the internet’s assistance. Afterward, “the participants were … asked how confident they were that, without using the internet, they could answer unrelated questions in six domains: weather, science, American history, food, health treatments, and the human body [emphasis his].”

Overall, “the participants who had used the internet to search for answers were more likely to overestimate their own internal knowledge in unrelated areas.” In other words, Google made them inflate their ability to figure stuff out on their won. It should be said that this wasn’t a real-world situation: How often are you asked to figure something out without the assistance of Google and in a situation where your confidence level doesn’t have any real-world consequences, which it doesn’t for a Turk worker? Still, it’s an interesting new nugget of information about the ways our constant Googling might be affecting us — given how ubiquitous Googling has become, it would be a miracle if it wasn’t.

Google Makes People Feel Smarter Than They Are