Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How the Internet inflates estimates of internal knowledge

An article (Fisher et al., 2015) reports on a very interesting series of experiments, which explored the question of whether people feel that they have become more knowledgeable just through the act of searching. The answer is basically "yes", even when people don't find anything from the search.
"Searching for answers online leads to an illusion such that externally accessible information is conflated with knowledge “in the head” (Experiment 1a and b). This holds true even when controlling for time, content, and search autonomy during the task (Experiment 1c). Furthermore, participants who used the Internet to access explanations expected to have increased brain activity, corresponding to higher quality explanations, while answering unrelated questions (Experiment 2a). This effect is not driven by a misinterpretation of the dependent measure (Experiment 2b) or general overconfidence (Experiment 3) and is driven by querying Internet search engines (Experiment 4a-c)."

Fisher, M., Goddu, M., & Keil, F. (2015). Searching for explanations: how the Internet inflates estimates of internal knowledge. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. (advanced online publication) There is a self-archived copy here:

I discovered this via: Novella, S. (2015, April 6). The Google University Effect. Neurologica blog. which in turn I discovered through a discussion post by Peter Tagtmeyer.
Photo by Sheila webber: cherry blossom, April 2015

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