How the Internet Makes You Feel Smarter Than You Actually Are

Sorry, Einsteins. All of that web surfing may not make you as bright as you think.

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With laptops, smartphones, and tablets constantly within reach, answering pretty much any question can be as simple as a quick Google search. But all that web surfing may be inflating your ego faster than any actual knowledge, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association. With so much information at our disposal, the line between what our brains know and our computers know is getting blurry.

Yale researchers conducted a series of nine experiments to investigate the connection between real knowledge and online knowledge. In one experiment, half of the participants were given access to the Internet to answer a series of questions, while the control group was not. When asked how they believed their brains were reacting to the questions, the web surfers selected photos of highly active brains, while the non-internet-users selected images of brains that weren't as lit up. In other words, we believe that having access to the web makes us more knowledgeable.

In another experiment, half of the participants received generic texts on one how-to topic. The others were able to use the Internet. Then, the groups were asked questions unrelated to the original text. Each time, the group with access to the web reported more confidence in their ability to answer questions, even when the scientists rigged their Google searches so that no definitive answers were discovered.

So, the Internet makes us feel like we know more, even when we only have access to useless information. "If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s very apparent to you that you don’t know, and it takes time and effort to find the answer,” Matthew Fisher, lead author of the paper, said in a statement. “With the Internet, the lines become blurry between what you know and what you think you know.”