Does Googling Ruin Your Brain?

…Or does it act like a forklift, freeing your brain from having to remember bits of information in favor of exercising your critical thinking skills?

Published by Betsy Sparrow, Jenny Liu, and Daniel M. Wegner, on the Web site of Science Magazine, and written about in the International Business Times, this study says in part, that when people rely on the internet and expect to have future access to information, they have “lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it.”

I can’t argue with the findings, I’m just not so sure that’s a bad thing. For one, specific memorization and recall of facts and other bits of information erode at least somewhat over time anyway. The aging process takes care of that, as now in my 50’s, I’m finding out. However even when I had a with a robust 30 year-old brain, I always thought that knowing where and how to find information was a better skill than being reliant on just memorization.

This reminds me of the use of spell checking and word processing in general for people with and without learning disabilities. When your brain is freed from some of the more mechanical memory-based functions of writing (spelling, for example), you can focus on the expressing your ideas, the crafting of written expression.

Granted, it’s nice when you are good at both.

Hmm, I can’t remember if this study’s been replicated.

I guess I’ll Google that.

About Sanford

Learning Disabilities specialist and Educational Consultant
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4 Responses to Does Googling Ruin Your Brain?

  1. Richard says:

    There’s a difference between reliance on technology and reliance on google. The title of the study is a bit shortsighted both because there was an internet before google where these questions existed and because google isn’t the only game in town when it comes to search and finding data.

    I can’t comment about my rate of recall being stunted by increased use of the internet because as I’ve ramped up my use of the internet my recall has diminished because of age. Maybe one cancels the other out.

    In all seriousness, as a culture we sometimes mistake fast recall for intelligence and they are definitely not the same. Sometimes it’s important to come up with an answer quickly but more important it’s important to come up with the right answer, no matter what the speed. I’ll take right and slow to fast and wrong.

    My comment on the question is that I definitely rely on being connected, not just to my computer but to the internet (not necessarily google). Much of my life is in the social space that is applications like the one driving this web site. No access to the internet means no access to this kind of information. Is my brain ruined because of this “dependency?” I don’t think so. Changed yes. Ruined no.

  2. Sanford says:

    Richard, good points. Our brains may be changed but not ruined. In fact, my life has changed and has not been ruined.

    I think the point of the study is specifically on the effects of search engines enabling us to retrieve so much information that it negatively impacts our ability to remember certain kinds of information. Thus, supposedly making our memories less effective. For me, it just leaves more space to remember or forget other things.

    I stand by my assertion that this is not a bad thing. To be able to access meaningful and sometimes playful bits of info from quick searches (from data on learning disabilities to “What other movies did that guy play in, honey?”) is a plus in my book. And perhaps as importantly, this easier access takes the burden off of the search for information to the challenge of discerning whether a source is good and how to integrate the information.

  3. Dale Brown says:

    I think that the access to information might actually improve memory for some people. At least for me, I remember something if I think about it, look it up a couple of times, and use it. Before google, I’d just do a work around the fact that I couldn’t remember. Spell check improved my spelling, because I would correct the word and then see the word over and over again in my own article. I think that is happening to my memory.

  4. Sanford says:

    Dale, interesting observation. It’s hard to say for me how it’s affected my memory. What I can say is that since internet searching puts the world of information quickly at our fingertips, we have time as you say, to do the subsequent stuff: reason with it, consider it’s sources, integrate and apply it.

    On the other hand, since certain types of procedural and naming memory function diminishes as we age, it’s good to have a back up system. My RAM is declining so I guess this is like having an external drive 🙂

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