Actual Study Suggests Googling Activates Your Brain, Rather Than Making You Stupid

from the can-we-get-money-back-from-Nick-Carr? dept

Earlier this year, we were among many who debunked Nicholas Carr’s somewhat ridiculous assertion that Google somehow made people stupid because it got them used to skimming information rather than sitting down with a big fat book (like the one Carr is trying to sell) and reading through it. Like so many Carr theses, it seems filled with some interesting factoids and connections — but then jumps to a conclusion that isn’t even remotely supported by the rest of the article. Yet, rather than defend or respond to criticisms, Carr has gotten into the habit of only posting the positive reviews of his article and book.

It would be interesting to see, then, how he responded to some actual research that suggests using search engines helps keep the brain active and “exercises” the brain — which would be rather the opposite of Carr’s thesis. Not only that, but the MRI research showed that active internet users tended to have more activity in the region of the brain that controls decision-making and complex reasoning. While it’s just one study — and you can question how widely the results can be applied — it’s at least worth noting that it seems to contradict Carr’s basic thesis.

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Comments on “Actual Study Suggests Googling Activates Your Brain, Rather Than Making You Stupid”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 1+1=3

Not true. Citing the above article “Google somehow made people stupid”. That would imply having a negative effect on the brain. The study implies having a positive effect on the brain. What you just said, combined with these two facts, implies that “googling” has a positive effect on the brain, although it may not be as positive as reading.
As the 1337 HAX0RS say, pwnd.

Anonymous Coward says:

To be honest, googling something needs more processing power than looking it up in a book. Get a book, check the related chapter, and just start reading until you get what you want.

To google something efficiently you need to come up with a good search string, then filter the results mentally based on reliability and relevance etc etc…

Whether one method ends up making you “smarter” than the other is debatable, but I’d argue that on those grounds, using google requires more skill/thought than reading a book.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

But unfortunately you have to find the book which is a filter. You have to filter the book based on reliability and relevance which is another filter.Look for the correct chapter which is another filter. I mean we could go on with this, but the reality is without evidence prooving one or the other it is a mute point. Just like writing countless blogs about IP. It is all just beating a dead horse as someone else said.

JT says:

Re: Re:

Sorry… Apparently it hasn’t made me smart enough to stop me from accidentally tabbing to “submit”.

My point being that search engines open up the ability to quickly harvest information. I don’t care what form information comes in, you’re still learning something. I’m fairly certain a lot of people, like myself, get more engaged when reading up on a subject on the web as opposed to static text in a book. The fact that many times you can hop around to different angles, read opinions, etc.

I don’t see how it could ever make someone stupid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I agree. The mind seeks input, the internet provides the information. I would argue that the internet allows the mind to form its own questions and seek it’s own answers. It is like being on a train of thought who’s tracks can turn on a dime at the conductor’s will.

A book is only as good as it’s author, as is the case for information found on the internet. Hopefully the brain is developed enough to decipher the valuable information from the crap.

John Strickland (profile) says:

Do you remeber being trying to search for something?

It sucked. Not because the new algorithms are so much better, but because you had no idea what the key ideas/ key words were.

Understanding that all media have different context for the same words means you need to organize words into contexts and learn words that are used only in specific context.

But then again I never went to college. So maybe I am just google using retard.

JB says:

I find it interesting that my family and friends request that I perform searches on the web since I seem to find the relevant information faster than they can. I have since taught my wife to effectively produce a search string.

I see value in both book-smarts and internet-smarts. If you are trying to find information on bleeding-edge technologies, you are more likely to find the information by browsing the index of a book (which is a simplified search through a chosen source.) If you are trying to find information about common knowledge or opinions; an internet search is warranted.

If current progress is any indication, all current and future publications will have been and will be converted into electronic format. This means that the days of browsing through an ink and paper book will not be necessary as an internet search would point you to the right publisher:author:title:chapter:page:line:word:letter.

Anonymous Coward says:

A primary problem I see with most of the discussions on this topic, is that they do not define the inherent differences they are attempting to show. Reading does not make you more intelligent, it simply allows you to accumulate more information for reference. That being said, how can they prove that the exercise exerted on the brain during the skimming of a printed material is greater than that of someone using a search engine? Generally when using a search engine, a person is doing exactly the same thing as someone browsing a book, with the exception that there is less “automatic” mental function. When skimming a book you are not “thinking” about everything passing in front of your eyes, your brain is scanning it and disregarding that which is not relevant. That’s how our brains work to sort large amounts of information in day to day life.

Yes, indexed searching requires less skimming than that offered by a full text mental scan, but consider the fact that indexed searching allows for more rapid information acquisition. That in turn allowing a person to do more actual reading on the subject of interest, and possible stimulating more actual information retention in the brain as well as the stimulation of searching.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I notice a small problem with what you’re saying. Our brains do not “filter out” any information on their own, we in fact tell them to, but as we are telling our brain “that is not relevant, that is not relevant, …”, it is, at the same time, collecting data subconsciously. There is nothing that you perceive, read, hear, etc. that the brain does not store on some level.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

That’s like saying something taken into RAM is “stored”. Yes, experiences and information is taken in, but not everything is actually stored. Our brains do in fact automatically filter out the vast majority of sights, sounds, smells, etc, that come into it. If we were constantly “remembering” everything that was happening around us, we would be overloaded with information. For instance, do you believe you have to actively tell your brain to not remember everything that happens on your drive into work? Every sight, smell, sounds, vehicle color, or person? No, your brain looks for threats, processes things that might be of use in some fashion, and lets you sort through that. If you want to remember more specific details, you have to actually work to condition your brain to store them, not the reverse.

buckminster futt says:

Re: Re: Re: brain is not passive

Research has established the brain is not passive in regards to sensory inputs. Brain researchers wired electrodes to a cat’s skull such that when they rang a bell, the auditory signal registered on the animal’s brain and was detectable on their instrumentation. The researchers were surprised to discover that when the cat was intensely focused on stalking prey, ringing the bell did not register on the cat’s brain.

myself (user link) says:

I think both studies are wrong

You can not say that searching the web is better than browsing in a book or viceversa. It’s maybe a matter of how you look for the information.

Imagine the internet as a dictionary, or better yet, as an enciclopaedia and you are looking for “the history of cars”. While searching the web, I think one needs to be more aware of the information because you can read a lot more information given by a search engine: Writing different words related to the history of cars, will give you different search results. Some non-related and non-repeated. And they’re all as close as one click.

Do the same search in a book. Is more concise and by far, more limited (but by no means, unaccurated or unuseful).

So, as an exercise, searching the web looks more like a challenge for the brain. But certainly i don’t believe it makes you smarter. Just makes more information avaliable, and as we all know, more information is not always for the best.

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