Search engines are changing the way our memory works

A recent article in Science Mag suggests that the use of computers and the internet might actually be changing the way our memory works.

A series of psychology experiments recently carried out have shown that sometimes, when people were presented with hard to answer questions, they began to think of computers.

If participants believed that it would be easy to find answers on Google later, then they had poorer recall of the actual answer, and yet a greater memory of where the answer was stored.

A head x-ray showing someone with a computer for a brainThe researchers said that the internet acts as a tool which we now depend upon to to aid our memories, by remembering some data for us.

Here is the abstract for the journal entry

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.

In more simplified English, what this is basically saying is that it is now much easier to access data online, mainly thanks to search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo. If we have a question, we can find the answer in seconds.


This has lead the the human brain associating the thought of a problem with computers, as it believes that the internet will be the source of the solution. Search engines are now embeded so much in our brain, that when we think of a problem, we no longer bother trying to work out the answer for ourselves, but instead we associate the possibility of finding the solution of the problem with a search engine.

Let’s be honest, who hasn’t been bugged by something, asked someone else who also wasn’t able to help and as a result was either told “Google it” or thought “I could Google that”? I have, in fact I would say it happens on a weekly basis!

Question time

So what do you think? Are computers, the internet and search engines making us stupid, or is it just that we are now adapting as a race to more efficient ways of finding out information?

17 thoughts on “Search engines are changing the way our memory works

  1. A very vague, hence interesting theory. To answer your question chris, I certainly don’t think the internet is making us any stupider than we already are, in fact, doing the opposite to an extent. The fact that we have access to any kind of public information nowadays is surely a benefit.

    “This has lead the the human brain associating the thought of a problem with computers, as it believes that the internet will be the source of the solution.”

    As far as this statement is concerned, Isn’t it a good thing that people think of the source of answer when asked a question instead of just thinking where to get the answer itself. People rely on the internet (Google) to give them information they need. A right no one take take away from them.

    • Christopher (admin team)

      “β€œThis has lead the the human brain associating the thought of a problem with computers, as it believes that the internet will be the source of the solution.”

      As far as this statement is concerned, Isn’t it a good thing that people think of the source of answer when asked a question instead of just thinking where to get the answer itself.” – Yes, but what if the internet was not there? What if it was down for a day or so? Should we not be capable of consulting a wide range of resources, as the internet isn’t always the best one.

      “People rely on the internet (Google) to give them information they need. A right no one take take away from them.” – In your opinion, many governments around the world may like to argue with you on that! Check this article out for more: Who should get to use the internet?πŸ™‚

    • Christopher (admin team)

      Search engines do now play a very big part in our lives, that is true…

      Thanks for stopping by and dropping us a comment πŸ™‚
      Christopher – Admin Team

  2. To tell you the truth, i noticed this change some time ago. I have a pretty good memory and i like reading a lot, but since i started using the internet for… everything, i find myself searching for the same piece of information again and again, and i can’t seem to make it stick.
    I i were to go to the library and look for that info, it would stick immediately.

    Having access to online information is off course an advantage, but if one day we’ll find ourselves without computers and the internet? We’ll be void of information.

  3. I think this is actually true. I myself depends on computers/internet to find answers that my brain cannot give. I am becoming more dependent to the internet.

  4. I think yes as we rely too much on computers and Internet. I am afraid that adults can fight it and control the time they spend online or at the computer, but what about teenagers? They are really addicted to surfing the Internet all days long.

    • Christopher (admin team)

      Your English is a little hard to understand, but I will give it a go…

      “Search engines are the best way to get information which we need” – Really? Why? What about the humble book, what ever happened to asking more knowledgeable human beings, when did a journal ever hurt you?

      I agree that the internet is fantastic, but is it really always the best resource?

      Thanks for becoming part of the community by reading our content and then commenting πŸ™‚
      Christopher – Admin Team

    • Christopher (admin team)

      Not everyone uses the internet in the same way that you do Olawale. Many people still reach for a dictionary to find the meaning of a word, rather than typing “define: WORD” into Google πŸ™‚

      Thanks for the comment Olawale!
      Christopher – Admin Team

  5. True! Search engines make us dull. Nowadays, students don’t solve their math problems. They just look for answers in the internet. It’s a shame though because search engines were built out of good intentions. However it’s making humans lazy, stupid and dependent.

  6. Hey Chris,

    This is such an interesting topic and about your question if internet is making us stupid, I don’t think so. It depends on how you use the information that you have obtained from it. Internet is such a helpful tool in terms of getting public information such as new discoveries, events and whatever that is happening now.

    • Christopher (admin team)

      It’s Christopher not Chris Kyle… now that’s out of the way

      Yes, I see what you mean regarding how you use it. It would be bad or not, but the idea was that it is changing the way we think via how we access information, not what we do with it.

      Thanks for the comment Kyle, welcome to the community πŸ™‚
      Christopher – Admin Team

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