Home > Cognitive Bias, Memory > Don’t remember the Google Effect? Don’t worry, you can Google it.

Don’t remember the Google Effect? Don’t worry, you can Google it.

Let’s step in the shoes of a typical college student for just a moment (think: Birkenstocks, Vans, or Adidas sneakers). You’re taking 16 credits, volunteering at the local elementary school, working in the library, and participating in countless other extracurriculars. Your brain is constantly moving a million miles a minute.

This is what happens when you’re utilizing a ton of cognitive resources!

In other words? You’re busy. Now let’s imagine you have a sociology paper due at midnight. You want to fine-tune your conclusion with more relevant information about affordable housing, but you can’t seem to remember the median household income in Reno, Nevada. “No need to fret!” you think as you pull up the Google homepage on your sticker covered laptop. “Why utilize precious cognitive resources for something that I can quickly type into a search bar?” This, ladies and gentlemen, is the essence of the Google Effect.

The Google Effect describes Google’s impact on our ability to remember information. In our technologically-driven era, we don’t feel the need to internalize information that can be found right at our fingertips, instead using Google as an external memory source. This decreased need to internalize results in decreased memory of this easily accessible information (“Google Effect,” n.d.).

Please help me, Google.

As humans, our cognitive resources are limited, so we don’t have an endless supply of attention at our disposal. Instead, we have to decide what is relevant and important for us to remember, and forget the rest through the process of transience. Sometimes we don’t even attend to a stimulus enough to encode the information through a process known as absent-mindednessWhy would we need to remember the median household income in Reno if this information is not important for us to remember for more than just the time it takes to write our paper? This tidbit of information isn’t stored in our memory; instead, it exists in an external source: the Internet.

So what do we mean by this “external source”? External (transactive) memory is a form of memory that’s “stored” outside of your own mind. Another way to think of this memory is as shared knowledge, which allows groups of people to share information with one another (Arima, 2013). This type of memory is typically found within groups of people rather than between humans and technology. This new form of technological transactive memory shifts the information typically shared between people to the Internet.

My BFF? More like my BEMSF (best external memory source forever)!

One study suggests that our brains are wired to turn to the Internet as an additional memory tool because of its unlimited storage space for information that we may need to access (Sparrow, Liu, & Wegner, 2011). Researchers conducted 4 experiments to explore this effect. In one experiment, participants read random facts and then typed them into a computer. Researchers told half of the participants that the computer would save their typed information and told the other half that the information would not be saved. Those who were under the impression that their typed information wouldn’t be saved were better at remembering the information than the participants who thought their facts would be saved. In other words, when you think that you’ll be able to use your trusty friend, Google, you don’t bother committing that information to memory. 

Confidence also plays a role in external memory. One study was conducted to determine the relationship between the organization of one’s own computer (an external memory source) and one’s confidence about what they know (Hamilton, McIntyre, & Hertel, 2016). Participants first completed an assessment to determine their confidence in how much they knew about their occupational or school work, related to how much they thought they should know. They then responded to questions about their external memory source organization. The results suggest that the more organized your computer, the more confident you are in what you know. If we utilize this external memory source in an organized and efficient way where information can be easily accessed, increased confidence in what we know follows suit. In other words, if we remember how and where we found the Reno median household income, we have more confidence in what we know. With this organization and confidence relationship in mind, it’s also important to be aware of misplacing your confidence in order to avoid overconfidence.

So we know how memory works and we’ve learned about how the Internet acts as an external memory source. We also know that when we organize this external memory, we have greater confidence in what we know. Now we must ask ourselves: “What are the impacts (good and bad) of using the Internet as another form of memory?” 

Good? Bad?

There are people on both sides of this Google Effect argument. Some say that relying on Google (and the Internet as a whole) as our external memory source makes us less intelligent, in the sense that we really have no reason to remember and know things that we can easily Google. Another claim for those seeing the glass half empty when it comes to this bias is the fact that our minds are better than computers at connecting pieces of information that we have learned. This ability to find relationships between various pieces of information is critical because everything is associated. Think of a liberal arts education; we pull information from all different disciplines in order to fully grasp the interconnectedness of the world.

On the other hand, the Google Effect can also be advantageous. If you have a nearly infinite amount of information at your fingertips, then you have more space in your mind for other cognitively demanding tasks, like remembering what day your sociology paper is due and actually writing your paper.

So now that we’ve talked about the good and the bad of the Google Effect, where do we go from here? Cognitive demands have arguably changed since the inauguration of the fast-paced technological age. It’s now much more advantageous to know how to utilize Google and the Internet to your benefit in order to maximize efficiency and performance in our constantly changing society. When you’re learning something new, Google acts as a support system, providing information and resources while you learn. As you become more knowledgeable about that topic, you can begin to form connections between other topics that you’ve learned in the past in order to make more sense of the world.

How can YOU maximize your efficiency? 

Although it’s important to be cognizant of how much you’re relying on our trusty friend, Google, if you learn how to harness its power, the Google Effect can benefit you.

And if you read all of this, go about your day, and don’t remember the Google Effect? Don’t worry, you can always just Google it.

 

 

 

 

References

Arima, Y. (2013). Effect of word-list consistency on the correlation between group memory and group polarization. Psychological Reports, 112(2), 375–389. doi:10.2466/01.07.17.PR0.112.2.375-389

Cooper, B. B. (2014, July 9). How we store memories in other peoples’ heads. Retrieved from https://lifehacker.com/how-we-store-memories-in-other-peoples-heads-1602512604

Google Effect. (n.d.). In Alleydog,com’s online glossary. Retrieved from https://www.alleydog.com/glossary/definition.php?term=Google+Effect

Hamilton, K. A., McIntyre, K. P. & Hertel, P. T. (2016). Judging knowledge in the digital age: the role of external-memory organization. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 30, 1080-1087. doi:10.1002/acp.3277 

Mednick, S. A. (1962). The associative basis of the creative process. Psychological Review, 69(3), 220-232. doi:10.1037/h0048850 

Schacter, D. L. (1999). The seven sins of memory: Insights from psychology and cognitive neuroscience. American Psychologist, 54(3), 182-203. doi:10.1037//0003-066X.54.3.182

Sparrow, B., Liu, L. & Wegner D. M. (2011). Google effects on memory: Cognitive consequences of having information at our fingertips. Science, 333(6043), 776-778. doi:10.1126/science.1207745

Wegner, D. M. & Ward, A. F. (2013, December 1). The internet has become the external hard drive for our memories. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-internet-has-become-the-external-hard-drive-for-our-memories/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. December 3rd, 2019 at 15:50 | #1

    This is a great example of how we allocate attentional resources. According to the capacity model of attention, we only have so much to devote to certain cognitive tasks. With the reliance on an external source to house information, effortful encoding is not necessary and more attention is freed up. This definitely paints the Google effect in a positive light; less information, less to worry about! But, what would happen if that external source were to be taken away?
    Also, evolutionarily, is there evidence of this effect becoming more prominent with technological advances? Or has this effect always been extreme?

  2. December 4th, 2019 at 18:54 | #2

    Hi Hannah! I thought your example of googling a fact to add a little something extra your paper is something most college students can relate to. I found the study that concluded that students with more organized computers are more confident in what they know very interesting. In class, we talked about metacognition and our ability to judge how much we know. In this scenario, I wonder if being more confident in what you know would help or hinder performance in school.

  3. December 10th, 2019 at 11:55 | #3

    Hey Hannah! After reading your post I was quite curious to see if a dependency on using Google to help remember information is limited to those who grew up in a time period where we were taught that the internet is a valuable resource? Is this effect seen in the elderly? Do younger children have a greater dependency on using Google to acquire lost information? I do enjoy your positive take on Google, and the internet. Attention in our day to day lives is used up by many important tasks, and when you aren’t paying attention, it is obviously more difficult to encode information. I wonder how this plays into people’s will to pay attention in class during lectures, since professors tend to put their class slides and other information in easily accessible places?

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