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The Google Effect: How Does our Memory Slip into the Search Engine?


Do you remember the last time you thought about something you couldn’t remember? It probably wasn’t that long ago, maybe even today. We often wonder, “Why has my memory gotten worse?” This question usually comes when we notice that we have to “google” even the most seemingly obvious things and facts, unfortunately, leaving our memory. What is it – global memory impairment? Should we look for ways to develop our memory? Is it worth worrying about? And is there a scientific name for this phenomenon? Let’s explore these questions in this research by a professional psychologist who helped write my paper on Google Effect.

A little about the history of information storage

Back in the old days, people had to remember a lot of information without the possibility of its material fixation. All reports orders had to be quoted precisely; natural laws were stored in people’s memory and passed from generation to generation. Carriers of available scientific knowledge were reputed as wise men. They were in honor because they were the ones who had the scholarship of keeping valid data and were responsible for passing them from mouth to mouth. Economic accounting was the prerogative of the owner or specially hired people who owned all modern accounting in its simplified form, and so on.

Rock paintings were one of the first and most primitive forms of storing information. People in those ancient centuries conveyed the world around them with the help of naive images, depicted the Gods they prayed and worshiped, and drew everyday life and economic situations. Then writing appears, and it becomes more accessible for people to transmit massive amounts of data. The acute need to remember every detail disappears overnight, as all the details can be written down and saved.

Astonishingly, the role of writing was initially underestimated by many famous personalities. For example, Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, neglected writing and resorted to it relatively rare, as he always had ascribed – a person specially trained for that purpose. Plato did the same when he said that writing was just an auxiliary tool for language and a service technique for remembering. However, thanks to writing, we can now enjoy their philosophical works and study different concepts of other scientists.

In the mentioned Platonic point of view, we can see the connection between writing and memory. Obviously, with the advent of the former, the latter began to play a less essential role. Thus, with the improvement of means of storing information, among which were papyrus, paper, punched tape, magnetic tapes, floppy disks, hard disks, and flashcards, their storage method also evolved. Today we are already talking about digital data transfer, which simplifies our lives many times, making them faster.

Undoubtedly, there is no such thing as a phenomenon that can be evaluated unambiguously. There is one serious drawback to the superfast, accessible, simple, and convenient digital way of storing and transmitting information – our cognitive abilities, which used to be used to a greater extent, are now being retired.

Ok, Google!

At any moment (with the only condition – with access to the Internet), we can ask a question that interests us to a search engine, which will answer us in various forms, interpretations, show, tell and suggest similar queries. It would seem that we have limitless opportunities to learn many things, to self-development, self-education, personal enhancement, and in the areas of interest to us. But one of the severe consequences of this accessibility is the so-called Google effect.

In 2011 a study was conducted at the University of California in the United States to determine the impact of computer technology on our memory.

Storing information outside the memory of a specific individual has never been novel. There is a concept of so-called transactive memory. Within a work team, collective, or another social group, it is not inherent for people to store all the information about the specifics of some phenomenon. For example, if a person is engaged in promoting the site, he may need to change its appearance. In this case, he will appeal to a specialist in site-building. That is, he will not need to memorize the algorithm for changing the site’s appearance because he will at any time address this specialist. It is called transactive memory, a memory from the outside.

And now imagine that these people are computers, which transmit information to each other. And we, as consumers of this information, do not turn to each other, but to the search engine, which gives us the answer right away. And as the research shows, when we ask a question, we immediately begin to think not about its content but about what sources of this information can help us. Let us describe the essence of our experiments.

Experiment 1

Essence. In the first experiment, participants were asked to answer simple or complex questions within the same topic with yes/no answers, combined into two blocks. After each block, they were asked to identify the color of the letters of words, whether computer-related or ordinary words, including names of IT companies or any common brands. This technique was chosen because people tend to delay reaction time (RT – reaction time) in determining the color of a word because their attention is usually focused on the content of the word, which significantly interferes with the main task of color discrimination.

Result. After a block with difficult questions, the reaction time for color identification of computer-related words was faster than for color identification of general terms.

Explanation. It confirms that if we discover some knowledge gap, the first thing we think of is computer systems that can help us with it.

Incidentally, the reaction of identifying the color of words associated with computer technology was also faster after a simple block of questions, indicating a general association of intellectual problem solving with computer systems.

In another series of tests, participants who answered blocks of complex and straightforward questions again recognized the colors of words, but not the usual ones, namely the two names of search engines (Google and Yahoo) and two other popular brands (Target and Nike). It turned out that after a block with difficult questions, the reaction time of participants was noticeably faster when recognizing the colors of the brand’s Google and Yahoo. And here, the acute need for computer systems is evident.

Experiment 2

Gist. Participants were asked to read 40 simple statements with the condition that they could subsequently access online searches. The statements included both facts new to participants (e.g., “An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain”) and common knowledge but not all active in memory (e.g., “The space shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry over Texas in February 2003″) They were then asked to type each statement to focus their attention and thereby provide greater validity to the memory test.

Half of the participants were assured that the information would later be erased, and the other half were assured that it would be retained. Next, they were asked to memorize as many statements as possible and, in the end, to write them separately.

Result. Of all the manipulations described above, the most significant effect was the effect of retaining the test or deleting it after the subjects had typed it on their computers. Those who were confident that the statements would disappear remembered the words better than those who believed they would remain on the screens.

Explanation. It confirms that we don’t strain our memory when we know that the information in question will be available at any given time. Therefore, when we are sure that a search engine will provide us with a relevant answer at the right moment in time, we don’t force ourselves to remember.

Experiment 3

The third experiment was designed to find out how memory works in remembering the sources of information searches.

Essence. Participants in the experiment again read and subsequently typed out uncomplicated statements. The condition was “Your entry was saved for one-third of the subjects.” For the second third, “Your entry was saved in folder X,” with X being one of the folders named Facts, Data, Info, Names, Items, Points (Facts, Data, Info, Names, Items, Points – as you can see, the names are contextually similar). The condition was, “Your record is lost for the last third.”

Participants were then subjected to a recognition task. They again saw 30 statements, but half of them were slightly altered (names or dates). The test subjects had to figure out:

Result. In answering the first question, the participants were mostly right. As for memorization, the subjects again showed greater memorization of those statements that should have been deleted.

At the same time, a different pattern was observed when answering the question, “Was the statement retained or deleted?” The correct answer was given more by those who had retained the information among the subjects. Those who were told the deletion were less likely to remember.

Explanation. This result suggests that when we are made aware that a given piece of information will no longer be accessed, we try to remember its content and concentrate on it. At the same time, when we realize that the information will not be lost, we remember where it is kept without paying much attention to the content.

On the last question (about the name of the folder with the protected statement), participants showed a worse recall compared to the fact of deletion. This finding describes our actions when we read something online and want to remember or share it but don’t remember exactly where we found the information. It usually happens because, due to the capabilities of modern computer networks, it is not difficult for us to see that information again.

Google Effect: pros and cons

It turns out that the Google Effect is an unavoidable phenomenon for every user of IT products. Another name for this phenomenon is “digital amnesia,” which very accurately conveys its mechanism. Suppose we answer the question “What is it?”. In that case, we can say that it is the habituation of the human memory to a new data storage format – fast, easy, and universally available. However, “ubiquitous” is a debatable adjective. After all, the google effect can only appear with access to an Internet connection. And there’s a bit of a problem with that.

Another problem is that if we previously needed an answer to a question we were interested in, we would ask knowledgeable people, experts, colleagues, mentors, in general, people. We can cope with our thanks to Google, Yahoo, etc., which signals that we are all becoming more private, less friendly, and socially adapted.

In addition, there is no denying the growing dependence on gadgets, which are becoming real assistants, sources of work, entertainment, helpful information, means of meeting many needs, and even communication. And the possibility of losing touch with the Internet seems more and more threatening and undesirable as if deprived of many vital aspects at the same time. 

Of course, it is impossible to talk about computer technology solely in a negative way. After all, there is a huge plus – an unlimited database, respectively, excellent conditions for self-development, finding yourself, self-determination, establishing a personal life, etc. But remember: looking at the information on the Internet and remembering where it is, is not the same as learning it, absorbing it, and retaining it for an extended period. Knowing is not the same as finding the answer at one time.


So, no matter how you feel about Google, effect-whether with confidence or skepticism, there is an obvious fact: the way we store our memories today is changing, and our memories adapt to it. And it becomes fundamentally important to understand clearly the difference between what you know is where the information is stored and what it means to know. Develop your cognitive skills to enrich your baggage of knowledge. Of course, we have robust support for development in the form of search engines but use them only for auxiliary purposes – still, the main work is on you.


Elissa Smart is a PaperHelp diary man of letters who fix up with provision intelligence to undergraduates as they put in an appearance at institution or university. When writing, Elissa comportments an in-depth analysis of the subject-matter she is approximately to describe.

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