A new study at Yale University has revealed that Internet searches create illusion of personal knowledge.
Matthew Fisher, lead researcher from Yale University, said that the Internet is such a powerful environment, where people can enter any question and basically have access to the world's knowledge at their fingertips, adding that it becomes easier to confuse their own knowledge with this external source.
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In a series of experiments, participants who searched for information on the Internet believed they were more knowledgeable than a control group about topics unrelated to the online searches. In a result that surprised the researchers, participants had an inflated sense of their own knowledge after searching the Internet even when they couldn't find the information they were looking for. After conducting Internet searches, participants also believed their brains were more active than the control group did.
The cognitive effects of "being in search mode" on the Internet may be so powerful that people still feel smarter even when their online searches reveal nothing, said study co-author Frank Keil.
In another experiment, participants who did online searches thought their brains would be more active than the control group, and they chose magnetic resonance images of a brain with more active areas highlighted as representative of their own brains. This result suggests that the participants searching the Internet believed they had more knowledge in their heads, rather than simply thinking they knew more because they had access to the Internet.
People must be actively engaged in research when they read a book or talk to an expert rather than searching the Internet, Fisher said, adding that with the Internet, the lines become blurry between what you know and what you think you know. An inflated sense of personal knowledge also could be dangerous in the political realm or other areas involving high-stakes decisions, Fisher said.
The study appears online in Experimental Psychology: General.