A study published in August by Ward showed that people who rely on search engines like Google may get the correct answers, but they may also have a wrong idea of how strong their memory is. Research has found that this is because online search is so seamless and readily available, and people often don’t have the opportunity to experience things they can’t remember.
These findings are part of a new wave of research on the intersection of the Internet and human memory in recent years. Ward said the impact could be far-reaching, including the spread of political misinformation. He cited years of research on how people make decisions, showing that people who are overconfident in their own knowledge have more entrenched political and scientific views and make suspicious financial and medical decisions.
A core team of cognitive scientists, psychologists, and other researchers is trying to understand what it means to remember when memory is sometimes shaped by technology in many different ways. Ward said this is equivalent to rethinking how memory works in every iteration of digital devices-blurring the boundaries between thinking and the Internet, and one day may be considered "connected thinking."
The technology industry is working hard to further blur this line. Companies such as Apple and Facebook are exploring glasses and headsets to make it easier for people to put their computers in front of them. And Elon Musk's company Neuralink is planning to launch a human brain implant technology, which has been tested on monkeys before.
It is not yet clear about its potentially far-reaching effects, but research is providing us with clues about what it means to rely too much on the Internet for memory.
A 2019 study found that people who use map apps and GPS devices a lot tend to have worse spatial memories for navigating the world. Multiple studies have investigated how posting information on social media can change memory, sometimes improving memory, and sometimes leading to forgetfulness.
Ward’s research was published in the October issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. He used a series of eight experiments to test how people perform short common sense tests. How to use and think about your knowledge. Some participants were answering "What is the most widely spoken language in the world?" is one of them, while others are not. They also completed the investigation.
He found that people who use Google have more confidence in their thinking and memory abilities, and wrongly predicted that they would know more in future tests without the help of the Internet.
Ward attributed it to Google's design: simple and easy to use, unlike a library, but more like a "neural prosthesis", simulating search in the human brain.
Ward said: "This speed makes you never understand what you don't know."