Googling Things Makes You Feel Smarter, Says Study — But Don't Let The Internet Fool You

Think about the last time that you performed a Google search. Did you walk away feeling confident in your knowledge and your ability to recall what you just learned? Well, this sense of intelligence may not be exactly what it seems: Google may be making you feel smarter than you actually are. A new study found that having access to a vast array of information at your fingertips may actually falsely inflate your sense of intelligence. It looks like now might be a good time for all of us to check our egos, doesn't it?

According to the study, the reason that you feel smarter after searching for information online is that you don't know how to differentiate what you actually know and the information you've just been reading and processing. “It becomes easier to confuse your own knowledge with this external source,” commented lead author Matthew Fisher, a Ph.D psychology candidate at Yale. Since we always have the internet available at our fingertips, it's hard to tell what knowledge we have that is really ours — and Fisher says that people are more dependent on the web than they themselves realize. “When people are truly on their own, they may be wildly inaccurate about how much they know," he added. I know that when I want to make sure I remember something correctly or have any sort of postulation, I always will Google it to confirm my knowledge... but the real question is how much I actually really know the answers that I think I'm just confirming.

To further understand these findings, let's break down the experiments:

The Experiments:

Giphy

Fisher conducted a series of experiments, but started with one survey that asked participants to answer simple questions like, "How does a zipper work?" Half of the participants were allowed to use the Internet to help them answer the question and the other half had to rely on their brain alone. He then asked all participants a follow-up question that was unrelated to the first question they'd been given — and instead of answering it, they were asked to rate how well they thought they could answer it. Those who had been allowed to use the Internet in their first question rated their ability as higher than those who were Google-less. He then conducted a plethora of additional experiments to try to see if it was the information that warped people's false sense of intelligence, or the Internet itself.

The Findings:

Giphy

All of Fisher's experiments lead him to the same conclusion: Searching for information online leads to a false sense of intelligence. Even those who were shown the same search pages others actually used Google to find didn't feel the same sense of intelligence as those who actually performed the searches themselves. Those who didn't find what they were looking for but still searched also had an inflated sense of intelligence. According to the findings, Internet searching makes us think we are smarter than we really are.

The Takeaway:

Giphy

Thinking you're smarter than you are can actually be dangerous; not only does it impair your ability to assess your own skills, but even worse, it can be especially harmful in terms of decision-making. How can you make informed decisions when you don't have know how informed you actually are? We've also all probably lost our ability to see our own faults, as Fischer says that "People are unlikely to be able to explain their own shortcomings." He continued, "In cases where decisions have big consequences, it could be important for people to distinguish their own knowledge and not assume they know something when they actually don’t."

So... Now What?

Giphy

Since it's now almost impossible to distinguish our own knowledge versus what we find online, it's imperative that we make sure we actually know what we're talking about, especially when we're in a debate, negotiation, speaking in public, or deciding on a large purchase. If you want to make sure you actually know what you're talking about and aren't relying on Google, here's how you can keep yourself in check.

1. Write It Down

Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

If you're preparing for a salary negotiation, for example, sit down with no electronics in sight and see if you can write down three effective arguments that also use some sort of current data about your profession, field, and experience level. Do you have your facts in order? Congrats! Are you struggling to come up with anything? Then you may need to go back to the drawing board. Use old fashioned pen and paper when you want to test how much you actually know, especially for situations where what you know will actually count.

2. Talk to a Friend

WPA Pool/Getty Images News/Getty Images

If you want to test your knowledge on a subject, start a conversation about it with a friend and see how long you can talk about said topic until you run out of data points. Figure out where the gaps in your knowledge are start studying!

3. Read a Book

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Instead of searching Google to find an answer to an important question, try hitting the library instead. Then you can ensure the internet is not tricking you into thinking you know more and you'll probably learn a lot more anyway than if you'd scoured the web.

Images: Getty Images (4); Giphy (4)