CogniFit's Science blog: A Brain In The Search Engine Era

A Brain In The Search Engine Era

It isn’t yet widely studied the effect of the new information technologies to the ability of young students to learn. Most existing studies indicate that technology helps the kids to absorb more and more information and that is indeed positive.

However there are also serious signs of concern about the so called “Search Engine Effect” (or the branded “Google Effect”). So what is the “Search Engine Effect”? Let me ask you a few questions: What is the Operation Barbarossa? How many square feet make a square meter? What is the capital of Eritrea? What’s the distance from the Earth to the Sun?

I’m pretty sure you’ve been able to answer all those questions in less than 10 seconds. That’s the “Search Engine Effect”, no one needs to know the answers, that hard thing that is now back in the past. Today all you need to do is to search the question on the internet and get the answer in a blink of an eye (well, that depends on the internet speed, but you get the point).

Kids start googling from very early age, and they are used to finding the information easily and quickly. In fact, it has been studied already that the kids nowadays are so much formatted to think as a Search Engine, that they are much faster in finding information on the web than their parents.

Is this effect good for them? There is a growing concern that the “Search Engine Effect”, or in other words, the effect of knowing the information is easily available whenever it’s needed, may seriously affect the capacity of the kids to memorize information, an ability which was crucial previously and part of the cognitive vitality.

A recent study developed by the Columbia University has tried to demonstrate that the level of recall of the people depends on whether they knew they could easily get the information later or not. In the specific case, the subjects have been asked to read and remember some statements, as well as remember in which computer folder they were filed. Then they were given opposite instructions: part of the group was informed that they could have access to the statements later, while the other group was told they wouldn’t have access to them.

The results were quite interesting for their clear differentiation: the people who though they wouldn’t have access to the information later were able to remember it much better than the others. This is exactly the consequence of the “Search Engine Effect” – knowing that the information is easily available whenever needed is an incentive not to make an effort to recall it, hence the brain gets lazy.

The “Search Engine Effect” is probably not going to disappear, if anything the trend will continue to grow. The real challenge for the society is to avoid losing collective cognitive abilities due to the technological incentives our brain has to be lazy. This is where Brain Training appears as a whole solution.