Google effect

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The Google effect is the tendency to forget information that can be found readily online by using Internet search engines such as Google. According to the first study about the Google effect people are less likely to remember certain details they believe will be accessible online. However, the study also claims that people's ability to learn information offline remains the same.[1][dead link]


The phenomenon was described and named by Betsy Sparrow (Columbia), Jenny Liu (Wisconsin) and Daniel M. Wegner (Harvard) in their paper from July 2011.[2][3]


The study included four experiments conducted with students at Columbia and Harvard.[1] In part one, subjects had to answer hard trivia questions. Then they used a software program. It required participants to insert which color (either red or blue) a word was as fast as possible. Some words were related to search engines, such as Google and Yahoo. The reaction times for the search engine words were faster. This indicated, according to the study, that the participants thought about search engines when searching for information.

In part two, the subjects read statements related to the trivia questions and had to remember them. They were told which statements later would be available to look up and which would be unavailable. The latter statements were remembered better. This suggests, the experimenters claim, that our memories are adapted to Internet information search.

In phase three, the subjects had to type into a computer the details of answers to questions handed out to them. When some answers were typed in, one third of the times the computer said "Your entry has been saved.", one third of the times it said "Your entry has been saved on the folder FACTS, DATA, INFO, NAMES, ITEMS, or POINTS." and one third it said "“Your entry has been erased.” The participants were led to believe that they could make use of the ostensibly saved information in a test trial. The result showed they remember more from the latter category than the two others.

In the final phase, the subjects believed the statements would be stored in computer folders. They had an easier time remembering the folder names than the statements.[3]

Sparrow claims the Internet is a type of transactive memory.[3] She said, "We're not thoughtless empty-headed people who don't have memories anymore. But we are becoming particularly adept at remembering where to go find things. And that's kind of amazing."[1]


  1. ^ a b c Krieger, Lisa M. (2011-07-16). "Google changing what we remember". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 2011-08-04. 
  2. ^ Betsy Sparrow, et al., "Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips," Science 333:6043:776-778 doi:10.1126/science.1207745, July 15, 2011
  3. ^ a b c "Study Finds That Memory Works Differently in the Age of Google". Columbia University. 2011-07-14. Retrieved 2011-08-04. 

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