When’s the last time you forgot something and did not turn to Google for help? We’re guessing that, chances are, you don’t remember.
Researchers at Columbia University may have found the reason for that: They say Google and its search-engine brethren have started to reshape your brain, making you more likely to forget information that is only a quick Internet search away.
The new research, published in Science magazine, suggests that people are adapting to the very existence of search engines. For most of us, the thinking goes, the “what” isn’t what matters now; it’s the “where,” as in where can you find the information.
In a series of experiments, researchers found that subjects “were significantly more likely to remember information if they thought they would not be able to find it later,” as the New York Times puts it. When subjects were given information and folder names in which the info was stored in one test, they were more likely to recall the folder names than the information itself.
The researchers, naturally, have coined a term for this development: the “Google effect.”
The Internet has become “an external memory source that we can access at any time,” Betsy Sparrow, the study’s principle researcher, explains on Columbia’s website.
The good news is that we seem to only forget things that we are confident we can find on the Internet. The other – probably more personal – stuff we still tend to remember well.
Sparrow, for one, doesn’t think this development is necessarily a bad one. “Perhaps those who learn will become less occupied with facts and more engaged in larger questions of understanding,” she said.