Google is a great tool for research, but people mistakenly believe they are smarter than they actually are.

According to a new study out of the University of Texas at Austin, when people use Google to find information they become more confident in their ability to provide correct answers even without using the search tool.

Researchers tested subjects’ general knowledge. They were able to answer questions by either using their own memory or by searching the internet for the answers.

Those who used Google didn’t just get more answers right—they were more certain they’d instinctively know the answers to other questions.  

In some cases, subjects might later believe they were recalling information from memory but had actually Googled it. 

Adrian Ward, a marketing professor at UT Austin’s McCombs School of Business, stated in a release that “when we’re constantly connected with knowledge, the boundaries between inner and external knowledge begin blurring and fade.” We mistake the internet’s knowledge as our own. 

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A new study suggests turning to Google for answers gives people a false sense their own intelligence. The speed and seamlessness of the search engine can blur the line between where our memory ends and where the internet begins, researchers said

A new study has shown that Google answers can give people a false sense of their own intelligence. Researchers found that the speed and seamlessness offered by Google search engines can blur the lines between our memory and the internet.

Ward’s findings point out a modern-day variation of the Dunning–Kruger effect. This psychological phenomenon is where people with limited knowledge of a subject often underestimate their ability or knowledge in that area.

Because they’re unaware of their lack of understanding, they assume it doesn’t exist.

Or, Charles Darwin said, “Ignorance more often breeds confidence than knowledge.”

Ward stated that humans have relied on books and other information sources for information since the dawnings of writing. However, the speed and seamlessness offered by Google can cause us to misinterpret information found online with information we had stored in our gray matter.

A chart illustrating how subjects who used Google to answer questions were more certain they'd known the answers to other questions they couldn't look up by googling

A chart that shows how Google-using subjects were more certain that they knew the answers to questions they couldn’t find online.

When subjects were asked how they found the answers to individual questions, many who used Google mistakenly thought they had just relied on their memory

Many who used Google erroneously believed that they had only relied on their memory to find the answers when they were asked about how they found the answers for individual questions.

He stated that we ‘don’t do the remembering’ when we immediately turn to Google. ‘We aren’t exercising those muscles.

Ward asked participants to answer ten questions about general knowledge in order to explore this phenomenon. Participants could also use online search to find answers.

The subjects were also asked how confident were they in their ability remember information and to find it using other sources.

Unsurprisingly, Google quiz participants got more correct answers than those who relied solely on their brainpower.

They were more certain of their ability to access information via external sources and more confident in their own memories.

Ward then instructed the participants that they would take another test, but they wouldn’t be able to look up any answers. He also asked them to guess how many questions each participant would get correct.

The first test was a Google search. Those who did the second test were certain they would know more if forced to rely solely on their memory.

Ward wrote that using Google to answer general knowledge questions artificially boosts people’s confidence in their ability remember and process information. This leads to unrealistic predictions about how much they will know without the web, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“When information is available at our fingertips, it’s easy to mistakenly believe that the information originated in our heads.”

Having an inflated sense of confidence about what you know could cause you to make poorly informed decisions, or double-down on misinformation, said Adrian Ward, a marketing professor at UT Austin's McCombs School of Business

Adrian Ward, a marketing professor from UT Austin’s McCombs school of business, stated that having an overinflated sense of confidence in your knowledge could lead to poor decisions or double-down on misinformation.

This confidence is also fed by Google’s speed in answering questions. Ward then gave subjects access to a modified Google version that would delay search results by 25 secs.

Ward found that participants using this slow Google weren’t overconfident in their internal knowledge. He also found that they didn’t expect higher performance on future tests.

He wrote that the internet provides information seamlessly, integrating with internal cognitive processes and offering little physical cues that might draw attention. People might lose sight of the place where their knowledge ends and the internet’s beginnings. People may mistake Google’s knowledge for their own by thinking with Google.

Google isn’t the only information source on the internet, but it doesn’t seem like the cockiness spills over to other sites. Ward conducted another experiment asking participants to answer 50 questions using Google or Wikipedia.

Then the subjects were shown a list of 70 questions — the 50 they had answered and 20 new ones — and were asked whether each had been answered using the internet, using their memory or whether it was a brand-new question.

Ward found that Google users were less accurate in identifying the source information.

They were more likely to attribute online data to themselves than those who used Wikipedia.

Ward stated, “We’re seeing people forget that they Googled a question,”

He believed Wikipedia contained additional context and required more time to digest information. This may help people remember where the answers came.

A false sense of security in your knowledge could lead to poor financial decisions or misinformation.

Ward said that students might spend less time studying if it seems like they already know the answers.

He suggested that education be moved away from memorizing facts and instead focus on the things that can be Googled.

Ward suggested that ‘Maybe our limited cognitive resources can be used in a more efficient and effective way’.