The use of search engines is influencing the information people retain in their own memories, according to a joint study by the universities of Columbia, Harvard and Wisconsin.
Researchers found that people alter the information they retain based on what can and cannot be looked up easily online.
When test subjects were given a set of difficult trivia questions and tested on their reactions to words, terms such as 'Google' were recognised far faster than other terms.
The study also found that the test subjects tended to have better recognition of where pieces of information were stored than the actual information itself, and had a higher retention of knowledge which they believed would be 'erased' rather than 'stored' information.
Psychologists explained that internet users tend to discard information which can easily be found online, and retain information which may be harder to obtain through a search engine query.
"Our brains rely on the internet for memory in much the same way they rely on the memory of a friend, family member or co-worker," said Betsy Sparrow, co-author of the report.
"We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found."
The study could point to new educational methods that focus less on teaching specific facts and pieces of information, and more on generalised ideas and systems, according to Sparrow.
Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips is published in the latest edition of Science.
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