This Is How Google Tricks You Into Feeling Like A Genius

Photographed by Mark Iantosca.
If you've ever spent hours going down an online rabbit hole, all that random information you learn about deaths at Disneyland or every genre of metal might make you feel like you're pretty darn knowledgable. But, new research into our Internet-searching habits suggests that at least some of that smartypants confidence may be undeserved. The study, published this week in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, used a series of four experiments to figure out how we've started supplementing our own minds with the giant amount of information that's readily available online.  All of the experiments built off the first one, in which 202 participants either had to use the Internet to find the answers to a set of questions or were expressly told not to use the Internet to answer them. From there, in the second phase, participants had to rate how well they thought they could explain the answers to additional questions, about a variety of topics. (The second-phase questions were totally unrelated to those in the first phase.)

Results from all the experiments indicated that participants rated their own answer-explaining abilities higher in the second phase when they'd been able to use the Internet in the first phase. As the study authors explain, "Searching for answers online leads to an illusion...that
externally accessible information is conflated with knowledge 'in
the head.'"

Basically, we've become so good at tracking down the answers, we're starting to think we always knew them. At least we can rest assured that Google's results are getting better — especially when it comes to health searches. So, our answers will probably be correct, even if they're not really ours.

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