Is Google changing the way we think?

Well, when you don't know the answer to a question, what is the first thing you do?  A recent study argues that instead of working to retain and recall information, we simply Google it.

Experts call this transactive memory, where you remember where to go to get the information, just not the information itself.  This process has been around for ages; however, search engines have made it a whole lot easier.

According to the study out of Columbia University, the rise of Internet search engines like Google has actually changed the way our brains remember information.

So, instead of going to our friends and families for information, we turn to the web.

Our brains rely on the Internet for memory in much the same way they rely on the memory of a friend, family member, or co-worker, argues Betsy Sparrow, assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University and lead author of the study. We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found.

The Internet, when you think about it, is people putting content online. And so what it's doing is, it's allowing us to have access to much more external memory. Our network of people is just vastly expanded, Sparrow says.

In the paper, titled, Google Effects on Memory: Consequences of having information at our Fingertips, the researchers describe a set of four experiments that were conducted to test how people remembered information if it was stored somewhere accessible (i.e., the Internet).

In each case, people remembered less things if they thought the information was stored somewhere versus if they believed it was not.

In essence, the more we believe that the information is not easily accessible online, the more we're likely to remember it.

So, is the Internet making us more stupid?

Sparrow stops short of harkening back to the age old debate.  Rather, she implies that instead of becoming less intelligent as a result of the Internet and search engines, we are becoming more sophisticated at finding information.  Also, Sparrow adds, The stuff that we're experts in, that we're the source for other people, is stuff I think we'll always remember, regardless of whether it's online or not.

What do you think?  Is the Internet making us less intelligent and affecting our memory?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.