Blogs » Digital Babble » The Google Effect: Changing our memory?


Can't remember the capital of Vermont? Just Google it.

How many times have you learned a certain fact or received information, but didn't really take the time to store it in your memory bank?

You may think, "Whatever. I can always look it up on the Internet later." After all, you don't have time to be bothered with silly facts like when your tax returns are due, or which island country is the largest producer of vanilla. (In case you were wondering, it is Madagascar.) That's what the Internet is for.

A study released this week reveals that search engines like Google may have an impact on our memories. The study was conducted by Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow.

"Our brains rely on the Internet for memory in much the same way they rely on the memory of a friend, family member or co-worker. We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found," Sparrow said in a statement posted on the Columbia University News site.

Sparrow and other researchers conducted four memory tests on different groups of college students. In one experiment students were asked to type a list of trivia statements into a computer. Half of the group were told the facts were going to be erased, while the other half believed the statements were to be saved on the computer.

When the students were asked to recall the facts they had typed, the group who believed the statements were going to be erased, did a better job at remembering, scoring 40 percent higher than the other group. [Source:]

The results of the study show "that when faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it."

Sparrow’s paper, which will be published in the journal Science is titled, “Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips.”

So there you have it. If you think you can get information on the Internet, you are less likely to remember it. That means you have more room now to store information like where you parked your car (Wait, isn't there an app for that?) and the name of that kid who stole your lunchbox in the second grade.

Yeah, some things you never forget.

Is the Internet your personal memory bank?