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The Google effect: interference in human intellectual functionality

The Google effect: interference in human intellectual functionality

April 1, 2024

The reflection on the effect that the assiduous use of technology has on superior cognitive abilities of the human being is not a new event. Already in the decade of the sixties, after the appearance of the first tools of communication like the telephone, the television or the radio, some experts began to relate both concepts.

One of the pioneering figures in trying to understand the impact of technology on the human being and society as a whole was Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), a Canadian professor specializing in communication theory who introduced the concept of "global village" to refer to this phenomenon.

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Access to information: benefit or inconvenience?

In the same way that happens today with the main social networks and search engines on the Internet , the appearance of such informative instruments of yesteryear had a very relevant and revolutionary role in the access to information by society, taking place in a faster and more universal way. Also then, as could happen in the current era, the first controversies about this phenomenon were born.

Thus, while one part of society seemed to emphasize the benefits and advances that such technological discoveries could imply in the process of transmitting information globally, another collective portion expressed the fear that, paradoxically, greater ease of access to information could lead to cultural impoverishment.

Almost two decades after the beginning of the 21st century, we are at the same crossroads: such a volume of information can either be linked to the idea of ​​belonging to a more democratic or "more informed" social system or it can be associated with malicious practices through a biased, manipulated or partial dissemination of information .

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New technologies in human cognitive functionality

This first debate was the starting point on the basis of which other related dilemmas subsequently developed. An issue that over the years has been taking relevance in research in this area of ​​knowledge, refers to the analysis of the media itself (among others, Internet search engines, such as Google) and the implications that its continuous use could come to have in the way in which the functionality of the human intellect is configured .

Starting from the idea that the constant use of this type of knowledge tools can modulate, modify and significantly influence the way of perceiving, coding, memorizing, recovering the information received, one could hypothesize how these modifications could end up playing a Relevant role in the activity of higher human intellectual functions , how is the decision making where these lower cognitive processes converge.

From sequential processing to simultaneous processing

The explanation for this hypothesis would be based on a change in the way in which the human nervous system receives a certain kind of stimulation. In times prior to the revolution of new technologies, mental processes such as those used to happen in the mind sequentially and linearly, since the reception of information lacked the immediacy with which it currently counts.

However, after the massive boom of the Internet (in combination with other existing media) the information has been obtained quickly and simultaneously through various sources; Nowadays, it is usual practice to have different tabs open in the PC browser, while the TV news is listened to and the notifications of the mobile phone are attended.

All this leads to internalize as usual the fact of being exposed to a "constant bombardment" of information, whose final consequence seems to lead to a decrease in the analytical capacity of each set of data received individually and deeply. Lessening the time spent reflecting and evaluating each new information received If this is maintained sufficiently over time, there is pernicious interference in one's critical capacity, in the elaboration of a criterion based on the conclusions themselves, and ultimately, in the effective decision-making process.

To this phenomenon must be added the consideration of the discrepancy between the unlimited capacity of data storage that technological tools present and the limited capacity intrinsic to human memory . The first causes an interference in the second due to an information overload effect. This consequence seems to point to the origin of the problems so common in relation to the attentional difficulties that many children, youth and adults present today. Internet browsing involves intensive multi-task processes in a sustained manner over time.

The abrupt change from one micro-task to another prevents the sustained attention capacity from developing competently, since it is constantly being interrupted. Despite this great inconvenience, this type of operation presents a secondary gain that makes it difficult for the individual to reject or ignore technology: block alerts, notifications and other warnings and information from the Internet, social networks, etc., would imply a sense of social isolation for the subject hard to accept

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The Google effect

In 2011 Sparrow, Liu and Wegner's team published a paper that exposed the effects of using the Internet search engine Google in memory, the so-called "Google effect", and the consequences that could have on cognitive processes the fact of having the information in an immediate way. The conclusions showed that easy access to an Internet search engine causes a decrease in the mental effort that the human brain has to start to store and encode the data obtained.

Thus, the Internet has become a kind of external hard drive annexed and without limits of the own memory that has an advantage over the latter, as indicated above.

More specifically, one of the various experiments that served as the basis for the conclusions drawn by Sparrow, Liu and Wegner (2011) compared the level of memory of three groups of students who had been asked to read some information in magazines of leisure and that they tried to retain them in their memory.

A first group was guaranteed that they could consult the information stored later in a file on an accessible PC. A second group was told that the information would be deleted once it was memorized. The last group was told that they could access the information but in a file difficult to find on the PC .

In the results it was observed that the subjects who could consult the data later easily (group 1) showed very low levels of effort to remember the data. The probands that recalled more data were the individuals who were told that the data would be deleted once they were memorized (group 2). The third group was placed on a medium term in terms of the amount of information retained in the memory. In addition, another surprising finding for the team of researchers was to verify the high capacity of the experimental subjects to remember how to access the information stored on the PC , which had not been retained in the memory itself.

The transactional memory

One of the authors of the research, Wegner, in the 80s proposed the concept of transactional memory , a concept that aims to define the "unconcern" at the mental level by the retention of data that another person already has. That is to say, it would be equivalent to the tendency to economize cognitive efforts by delegating in an external figure a certain volume of data in order to be more effective in solving problems and making decisions.

This phenomenon has been a fundamental element that has allowed the development and cognitive-intellectual specialization of the human species. This fact implies implicitly some pros and cons: the fact of specializing in more specific areas of knowledge implies implicitly the quantitative loss in the volume of general knowledge available to an individual although, on the other hand, this has allowed a qualitative increase in efficiency when carrying out a specific task .

Another key point that can be considered in relation to the transactional memory construct is precisely to assess the difference between the fact of delegating a certain memory capacity in another person (a natural living being) and doing it in an artificial entity such as the Internet. , since the artificial memory presents very different characteristics regarding the biological and personal memory. In the computerized memory the information arrives, it is stored completely and immediately and it is recovered in the same way, as it was filed at the origin. On the other hand, human memory is subject to processes of reconstruction and re-elaboration of memory.

This is due to the relevant influence that personal experiences have on the form and content of the memories themselves. Thus, various scientific studies have shown that when a memory is recovered from the long-term memory store, new neuronal connections are established that were not present at the time that such experience occurred and were filed in the mind: the brain that remembers ( recovery of information) is not the same as in his day generated the memory (file of information).

In conclusion

Even though neuroscience has not yet delimited exactly if new technologies are modifying our brain , it has been possible to conclude clearly that the brain of a reader is significantly different from that of an illiterate person, for example.This has been possible since reading and writing appeared about 6000 years ago, a space of time sufficiently extensive as to assess in depth such anatomical differences. To evaluate the impact of new technologies on our brain, we would have to wait a little longer.

What does seem certain is that this type of information tools present both gains and losses for the general cognitive capacity. In terms of multi-task performance, location, information classification, perception and imagination and visuospatial skills, we can speak of gains.

In addition, new technologies can be very useful in research on pathologies associated with memory . Regarding the losses, we find mainly the capacity of focused and sustained attention or the reasoned or critical and reflexive thought.

Bibliographic references:

  • Garcia, E. (2018). We are our memory. Remember and forget. Ed: Bonalletra Alcompas S.L .: Spain.
  • McLuhan, M. (2001). Understanding Media. The Extensions of Man. Ed. Routledge: New York.
  • Sparrow, B., Liu, J., & Wegner, D.M. (2011). Google effects on memory: Cognitive consequences of having information at our fingertips. Science, 333 (6043), 476-478.
  • Wegner, D.M. (1986). Transactive memory: A contemporary analysis of the group mind. In B. Mullen and G.R. Goethals (eds.): Theories of group behavior (185-208). New York: Springer-Verlag.

ЧЕЛОВЕК НАРУШАЕТ ЗАКОНЫ ФИЗИКИ. Сверхъестественный эксперимент «ПИРАМИДА» (April 2024).

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