Is the Internet Making Us Doubt Ourselves?

December 10, 2015 | Elizabeth Knowles

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Quick! Google it.

Around the globe, people make over 3.5 billion Google searches per day. That’s a lot of answered questions! How does having easy access to all this information affect us? That’s a good question.

According to Professor Evan F. Risko of the Department of Psychology at the University of Waterloo, it is making us less likely to say that we know things. "With the ubiquity of the Internet, we are almost constantly connected to large amounts of information. And when that data is within reach, people seem less likely to rely on their own knowledge," he said.

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He and his team conducted a study where they asked 100 participants general-knowledge questions. The participants simply had to respond with whether or not they knew the answers. Half of the participants had access to the Internet and were asked to look up the answer when they responded that they did not know. The other half of the participants had no internet access.

The team found two interesting results. Firstly, participants who had access to the Internet were 5 percent more likely to say that they did not know the answer to a question. Secondly, in some contexts, the same participants reported feeling as though they knew less than the participants in the other group.

The researchers suggested that one reason for the findings might be that easy access to the Internet makes it less socially acceptable to respond with a wrong answer. Participants felt more comfortable looking the information up in order to confirm their guesses.

"Our results suggest that access to the Internet affects the decisions we make about what we know and don't know," said Risko. "We hope this research contributes to our growing understanding of how easy access to massive amounts of information can influence our thinking and behaviour."

Do you know what the capital of Brazil is? How about India? Wouldn’t you feel more comfortable Googling it just to be sure?

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