Home > Memory > Me, myself, and Google: a brief search into the Google Effect

Me, myself, and Google: a brief search into the Google Effect

Ahh, Google… My most reliable friend. Google has a constant presence in the life of every human with access to it. Whether I forget basic information, such as the route from my house to the grocery store, or have an urgent question, like exactly how many calories are in a Bloomin’ Onion from Outback Steakhouse, Google is always there to clear up any confusion. With search engines constantly at our fingertips, we spend very little time grappling with trivial questions or attempting to recall answers from memory. Any question that I have can be answered almost instantly, regardless of my location or the time of day.

My best friend and me!

I’m frequently reminded by my parents what it was like to look up information in an encyclopedia… The last time I opened an encyclopedia was in kindergarten for a project on old research methods. Some argue that this constant access to information and our reliance on search engines hinders our memory. This phenomenon of reliance has been dubbed by cognitive psychologists as The Google Effect. The Google Effect, or digital amnesia, occurs when we fail to encode or transfer information to long-term memory because we know that will be able to access it later.

Why does this matter, you might ask. This constant access to information should be enhancing our knowledge stores, in turn making us smarter. However, there are people who argue we are merely learning how to search for information, rather than actually knowing it.  In this new technological age, are we actually losing our abilities to think critically and synthesize information? All developments in cognition are subject to backlash. For example, Socrates argued that written language hindered the ability to remember (Heersmink, 2016). He argued that process of writing down information prevented it from being encoded in biological memory for later retrieval. Someone

Are you sure about that?

would just have to reference the written words in order to remember the information, rather than extract it from memory. I find Socrates’s argument to be invalid: our memory is not an endless file cabinet. We do not have the space to store everything at all times in our memory. Forgetting is inevitable. There are two primary causes of forgetting: decay and interference. Decay is the loss of information due to the passage of time, whereas interference occurs when the learning of new knowledge affects the recollection of old knowledge.


The criticism surrounding our attachment to the internet can be compared to Socrates’s argument on the detrimental effects of the written language. We are relying less and less on our biological memory, and more on an outside resource. There are certain facts that I learn in my day to day life and know that I won’t need to commit them to memory. Instead, I consciously note that I can just search it on Google later. As an avid baker, I have committed a few important conversions to memory but rely on the “unit conversion” function on Google for simple metric calculations. My conscious effort to not encode this information comes from the notion that I will have easy access to it anytime through the internet.

We no longer instinctually go to retrieve the answers to questions from our own memory stores, but rather from the external memory bank that is Google/the internet. This concept of external, or transactive memory has been around well before the invention of the internet. A combination of memory stores can be shared by multiple individuals in contexts such as among a family, or between business partners. Is this really so bad? If adults have to look up the answers to basic multiplication problems, do they now have space in their memory to fill with abstract concepts?

We naturally put things into folders, categorizing them for later use.

A study done by Sparrow et. al shows that if participants are told in an experiment that they will have access to the information they are told to learn, later on, they are less likely to remember it. However, if participants are told it will be erased, and therefore inaccessible, they tend to better commit that information to their memory. Additionally, when participants are allowed to put information into categories, they are better equipped to accurately remember where facts have been placed. We might be bad at remembering information, but at least we know where to find it. This concept of being able to locate needed information shows that our searching skills far outweigh our thinking skills.


I find that the Google Effect is helpful in my everyday life, as well as in most academic situations. Any question I have at any time of day can be answered with internet access. There are limitations, however. For example, taking a test requires knowledge to be committed to memory. Or not being able to search the internet could be as simple as not having cell phone service. At this point, the internet is doing more good than harm, keeping us up to date and informed on almost every situation.

As a personal victim of the Google Effect, I don’t think it as bad some make it out to be. There is so much available information in the environment that I certainly don’t have the time or mental capacity to remember it all. We have the mindset of outsourcing knowledge to search engines, rather than taking the time to learn it (Bohannon 2011). Why should we have to remember something if it is so easily accessible through the internet?  This question will continue to plague us as our access to information expands in the years to come. Will we get to the point where we don’t need to encode anything to memory? It’s hard to tell right now, but maybe a Google search could clear that up. 



Bohannon, J. (2011). Searching for the Google Effect on People’s Memory. Science, 333(6040), 277. doi: 10.1126/science.333.6040.277

Heersmink, R. (2016). The Internet, Cognitive Enhancement, and the Values of Cognition. Minds & Machines, 26(4), 389-407. doi:10.1007/s11023-016-9404-3

Sparrow, B., Lie, J., & 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


Image 1: https://goo.gl/images/GwJnQa

Image 2: https://goo.gl/images/aWF2aQ

Image 3: https://goo.gl/images/qbZPgc

  1. nganto20
    May 7th, 2018 at 19:21 | #1

    The Google effect is clearly extremely relevant in today’s society when we almost always have access to the internet. It seems like the effect, as mentioned in the post, stems from a problem in the encoding process of memory–because we know that we can later have access to the new information, we will not make an effort to encode that information. But I wonder how this has changed since the invention of internet searching. When people learned new information that they wouldn’t have access to later, would they actually remember it better? That is, would they encode it differently than we now encode googled information? If they need to remember something then, yes, their encoding would be more effortful. But because forgetting still existed, not everything encoded would be accessible/available. Because of this, I would say that a search engine like Google is a positive thing. We just have to be aware that unless information is properly encoded, we are not really learning.

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