Does access to the Web affect how we evaluate our knowledge?

  • TECH
  • Tuesday, 15 Dec 2015

A Canadian study has suggested that the Internet may be affecting the way that we think, with people less likely to say they know the answer to something when they have access to the Web. 

In their analysis the team of researchers, from the University of Waterloo, asked a group of 96 participants general knowledge questions, and asked participants to indicate if they knew the answer or not. 

Participants were given Internet access for the first set of questions, and were asked to look up any answers that they said they did not know. For the next set of questions participants had no Internet access. 

Results showed that when participants had access to the Web, not only were they 5% more likely to say that they did not know the answer, but in some cases the participants also reported feeling that they knew less compared to those participants that were answering questions without access to the Web. 

The results suggested that participants with Internet access may not have wanted to admit knowing the answer through a fear of being wrong. 

The team also speculated that the results of the study could indicate that participants were more likely to say they didn't know an answer because access to the Internet gave them a chance to confirm it without the risk of getting it wrong, and also because searching for an answer is a rewarding behaviour that satisfies a curiosity. 

Professor Evan F. Risko, lead author of the study, commented on the results saying, "With the ubiquity of the Internet, we are almost constantly connected to large amounts of information. And when that data is within reach, people seem less likely to rely on their own knowledge. 

"We hope this research contributes to our growing understanding of how easy access to massive amounts of information can influence our thinking and behaviour." 

Meanwhile another study out of Waterloo published earlier this year, found that smartphones could be making us lazy, with those that normally rely on their own brainpower using their smartphone as an "extended mind". 

The study, which was published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour, looked at the smartphone habits of 660 participants in relation to their cognitive style and verbal and quantitative skills. 

Results showed that participants performed better on tests and were more willing to think analytically when they were separated from their smartphones, which "provides support for an association between heavy smartphone use and lowered intelligence" according to the research team behind the study. — AFP Relaxnews

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