Search engine accessibility may foster fake intellect



Search engine accessibility may foster fake intellect

By Sports & Health Reporter

In a generation where information is a click away, Google is the go-to search engine for any question imaginable, but does the accessibility to answers make people more intelligent, or just make them think

they are?

According to a study published on March 30 in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Yale researchers discovered the use of any kind of search engine makes people think they are more knowledgeable about everything. The study, which included nine experiments, tested how looking things up on the Internet affects people’s confidence in their intellectual abilities, according to the study. 

Matthew Fisher, lead author of the study and a Yale Ph.D. candidate in psychology, said his research team hypothesized that people would outsource their knowledge rather than retain it in their minds. 

“Instead of storing things internally, they merely access their information,” Fisher said. “We thought that could lead to an illusion of understanding, [which] we ended up finding. What was surprising to us was the extent to which the effect holds. In our latest studies, we found even when people were in a search environment, which had no relevant results, or just typing a question into a search bar, there seems to be a search mindset that even in that case they felt like they knew more and could explain things better even though they weren’t getting any results.”

Fisher said participants were initially asked to look up a series of intermediately difficult questions, such as “Why does a golf ball have dimples?” or “How does a zipper work?” Fisher said the candidates were asked to search questions where they feel they can give a start to an answer but might not be able to give a full explanation. 

According to Fisher, there were two randomly assigned conditions for the candidates—people were either given Internet access or no Internet access. The Internet participants were instructed to look up answers online and were free to search the web and figure out the answers to the questions. The no Internet access candidates were provided the answers they would have found had they looked up the answers online, but they were given to them directly.

“They’re seeing the same content across both conditions, but in one condition you are just actively looking for it online yourself and the other you are just receiving that info,” Fisher said. “After the induction phase, we measured how much they think they know. The self-assessed knowledge phase asked about domains of knowledge that are completely separate from questions they just looked up. What we ended up finding was that people in the Internet condition—those who just looked things up online—ended up rating their ability to explain questions in totally different topics higher than those participants whose access was restricted.”

Susana Urbina, professor emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of North Florida, said she was not surprised at the Yale researchers findings. She said as people, everyone feels they have handfuls of knowledge at their fingertips because of what

is accessible.

“[The Internet] gives us the impression that we have that knowledge,” Urbina said. “We kind of

fool ourselves.”

Urbina said it is important to educate the younger generation so they are able to properly apply the information and knowledge

they access.

“We know a little minute amount about a lot of things, but we really in-depth don’t know something unless we study it, so that’s why [the study] didn’t surprise me at all,” Urbina said. “It’s something especially crucial because so much information on the Internet is not well-rounded, but it depends.”

Halle Mariner, a junior cinema art + science major, said she Googles things up to as many as five times a day and that too many people rely on Internet use these days. 

“I think people do that because we can learn it on our own, but I think it’s just faster to type it in,” Mariner said. “Instead of having those assumptions we have for the answers, I would rather find the correct answer and be satisfied with that than try to come up with [an answer].”

Urbina said cell phone use is very apparent in college classrooms.

“[Everyone] has their phones, and that is the trick—thinking that you have been exposed to it, you got [the answers] and you don’t,” Urbina said. “A lot of people think they are having problems with memory, but they never really paid attention. When we are online we just jump from one thing to another. We need to cultivate in young people the capacity to be critical and self-critical and see where we can apply this.”

Fisher said the Internet is a great resource and helpful in all sorts of ways, but that he thinks that the results from the research involve an

inherent tradeoff. 

“By outsourcing all this knowledge we are able to tap into this resource and know all this stuff that we couldn’t have stored internally, it would have been too much,” Fisher said. “People are losing the sense of the boundary and it’s becoming blurry, and the information outside, even though not stored internally, starts to feel like it is. It’s important to recognize that it is infrequent that we are unplugged, and [we] are rarely without our smartphones and without net access. It’s important to know what you know on your own.”