Search Engines Negatively Affect Information Retention
Search engines are a common way to find information quickly for people around the world. However, according to research by a psychologist at Columbia University, the increased use of search engines is changing the way the brain remembers information.
The study was published online on Thursday in the journal Science, reports redOrbit.
Professor Betsy Sparrow and a team of researchers examined the effect of search engines on people's memory and ultimately found many had poor recall of knowledge if they knew where the answers to questions could be found.
As more and more people rely on the Internet as a source of memory, information is becoming more quickly forgotten.
Sparrow told the Telegraph, “Since the advent of search engines, we are reorganizing the way we remember things. Our brains rely on the Internet for memory in much the same way they rely on the memory of a friend, family member or co-worker. We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found.”
In the study, the researchers performed four experiments:
- Sixty Harvard students were asked to type 40 pieces of trivia into computers. Then the students were told the information would either be saved or erased. The results showed those who believed the data would be saved were less likely to remember the information they typed.
- Forty-six Harvard students were asked a series of true/false questions based on those trivia facts before showing them words in different colors. When the words could be linked to the Internet, students responded more slowly and admitted they were contemplating searching for the answers on the web.
- Twenty-eight undergraduates from Columbia University, students were asked trivia questions. They were allowed to take notes and the researchers found they struggled to remember information that would be saved.
- Thirty-four Columbia students remembered where they stored their information in folders on their computers better than they were able to recall the information itself.
“We are becoming symbiotic with our computer tools, growing into interconnected systems,” Sparrow said. “We have become dependent on them to the same degree we are on all the knowledge we gain from our friends and coworkers — and lose if they are out of touch.”
She added, “Human memory is adapting to new communications technology, we are not thoughtless empty-headed people who don't have memories anymore. But we are becoming particularly adept at remembering where to go find things. And that's kind of amazing.”
Sparrow did say it was unclear how technology and searc engines will affect people in the future.