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People mistake the internet’s knowledge for their own [Psychological and Cognitive Sciences]
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America  (IF11.205),  Pub Date : 2021-10-26, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2105061118
Adrian F. Ward

People frequently search the internet for information. Eight experiments (n = 1,917) provide evidence that when people “Google” for online information, they fail to accurately distinguish between knowledge stored internally—in their own memories—and knowledge stored externally—on the internet. Relative to those using only their own knowledge, people who use Google to answer general knowledge questions are not only more confident in their ability to access external information; they are also more confident in their own ability to think and remember. Moreover, those who use Google predict that they will know more in the future without the help of the internet, an erroneous belief that both indicates misattribution of prior knowledge and highlights a practically important consequence of this misattribution: overconfidence when the internet is no longer available. Although humans have long relied on external knowledge, the misattribution of online knowledge to the self may be facilitated by the swift and seamless interface between internal thought and external information that characterizes online search. Online search is often faster than internal memory search, preventing people from fully recognizing the limitations of their own knowledge. The internet delivers information seamlessly, dovetailing with internal cognitive processes and offering minimal physical cues that might draw attention to its contributions. As a result, people may lose sight of where their own knowledge ends and where the internet’s knowledge begins. Thinking with Google may cause people to mistake the internet’s knowledge for their own.