While driving home recently I heard on NPR that online searching may make you think you’re smarter than you really are. Matthew Fisher, doctoral student in cognitive psychology at Yale, found that people tend to think that “information is leaking into our head, but really the information is stored somewhere else entirely.”

Fisher surveyed hundreds of people and published his study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, you can read the article for free in PsycArticles (licensed library database). Fisher suggests that internet searching results in increased self-assessed knowledge, which suggests that “the illusion is driven by the act of searching itself.”

The more we rely on the Internet, Fisher poses, the harder it is to draw a line between where our knowledge ends and the web begins. Unlike poring over manuscripts or books, or debating peers, asking the Internet is effortless. The ease of looking up information leads people to consider knowledge that is stored online as their own.

Whoa, wait – what? I know tons of brilliant people courtesy of working here at Hopkins. You don’t have to look far to see undergraduates winning research awards, a food blogger and aspiring nutritionist sharing simple recipes for intersession, students winning competitions…I could go on and on and on…and that doesn’t even include the impressive accolades and honors faculty at JHU receive each year.

I confess, even though I’m a librarian, I google things all the time. It’s just as Fisher says, a very modern-day convenience and one that bugs me if my internet ever goes down or my data connection on my phone slows to a crawl. So while I can give my kids a better answer to the age-old question, “why is the sky blue?” I don’t ever feel bad about looking up information online. When searching, we make decisions on what to look at all the time, whether it is the NASA website or this one.

Because when it comes down to it, I still have to know how to evaluate that information and incorporate it into what I do know. That sounds an awful lot like learning to me. Bottom line – if searching online makes people feel smarter, think about what searching for articles, reading books, browsing manuscripts, or consulting with a librarian or your faculty advisor could do.

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