How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think

It's not for the better. 

person-typing
Photo by Plainview/Getty Images

Imagine this scene: You're out to dinner when someone poses a question and, immediately, there's a sea of four phones ready and willing to Google the answer. Sound familiar? A new study from the University of Waterloo offers some insight into why this happens so often—and it's not necessarily because nobody knows the answer, say researchers.

During the course of the study, 100 participants were asked to indicate whether or not they knew the answer to a series of general-knowledge questions, such as naming the capital of France. For half of the study, participants had access to the Internet and needed to look up the answer when they did not know it. In the other half of the study, participants did not have access to the Internet.

People with access to the Internet were 5 percent more likely to say they did not know the answer to general knowledge questions. Additionally, people who had the Internet at their disposal said they felt like they had less knowledge than those without the Internet, leading researchers to believe people with the ability to conduct an online search were less confident in their ability to answer simple trivia.

"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," study author Professor Evan F. Risko, Canada Research Chair in Embodied and Embedded Cognition, said in a statement. "We hope this research contributes to our growing understanding of how easy access to massive amounts of information can influence our thinking and behavior."