Thursday, July 14, 2011

Memory and the Internet

Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips

Betsy Sparrow,1* Jenny Liu, 2 Daniel M. Wegner 3

1Department of Psychology, Columbia University, 1190 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027, USA. 2Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1202 West Johnson Street, Madison, WI 53706, USA. 3Department of Psychology, Harvard University, 33 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.

*To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:

The advent of the Internet, with sophisticated algorithmic search engines, has made accessing information as easy as lifting a finger. No longer do we have to make costly efforts to find the things we want. We can “Google” the old classmate, find articles online, or look up the actor who was on the tip of our tongue. The results of four studies suggest that when faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it. The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.

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