Researchers say online search is our 'personal memory bank'

Is Google making us stupid?

A study has found that has found that the adoption of internet search engines has affected the way that people remember information.

A group of researchers, led by Columbia University’s Dr Betsy Sparrow, examined how well test subjects could remember information if they believed it could be retrieved from a computer connected to the internet.

Half the study’s test subjects were led to believe the data was saved on a computer while the other half believed the data would be erased.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, those test subjects that believed the information would be lost were more likely to remember it. Just as students expecting to be examined on a subject are more likely to remember the content of their lessons.

"Participants did not make the effort to remember when they thought they could later look up the trivia statement they had read," the authors said in the study published in Science.

The researchers said the findings confirmed a "growing belief" that people tended to use the internet as a "personal memory bank", which they called the "Google effect."

A surprise finding came when the searchers noted that the test subjects had become highly adept at remembering where to find information, rather than the information itself.

As we rely more on search engines and online encyclopedias like Wikipedia, the question arises whether the quality of pub trivia discussions will be lower than in the past.

"There’s a fascinating thing about the albatross. I can’t remember exactly what it is but you can find it on Wikipedia via…"

This may not have quite the same ring to it.

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