Google and Memory
Do search engines change the way we remember information? REUTERS

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

So, 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? The 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.

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

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, said Betsy Sparrow, assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University and lead author of the study.

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, Sparrow explains. We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found.

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.

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

Sparrow stops short of harkening back to the age old debate, is the Internet making us more stupid?

She implies that rather than becoming less intelligent as a result of the Internet and search engines, we are becoming more sophisticated at finding information. Furthermore, 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 are your thoughts? Do you think that you retain less information when you know you can Google it? Share your comments below.