Has Google Changed Our Memories?

BY Lauren Knapp  July 14, 2011 at 1:53 PM EST



We’ve all been there: you’re in a heated debate with a friend about a role one of your favorite actresses played five years back. You struggle for 30 seconds, maybe a minute, to bring the memory to the forefront to prove them wrong once and for all.

But you’re drawing a blank. What’s your next move? Sit and think a bit harder? Or type in www.google.com into your nearest browser?

A new study out Thursday in Science shows that the rise of Internet search engines, like Google or Bing, have actually changed the way our brain remembers information.

“We are reorganizing the way we remember things,” according to lead author, Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow. “We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found.”

It’s the first research of its kind into the effects of search engines on human memory organization — and could impact the way we learn.

“Perhaps those who teach in any context, be they college professors, doctors or business leaders, will become increasingly focused on imparting greater understanding of ideas and ways of thinking, and less focused on memorization,” said Sparrow. “And perhaps those who learn will become less occupied with facts and more engaged in larger questions of understanding.”

The Rundown’s Hari Sreenivasan put Sparrow’s memory of her research to the test in advance of the paper’s release. You can read the whole article here.