A new study suggests that the Internet and the ability to look up information with just a few keystrokes could cause people to feel like they know more than they actually do. An article, posted by the American Psychological Association explains that because of the ease of access to information people can begin confusing their own knowledge with the information available on the Internet.
Matthew Fisher, a doctoral candidate in his fourth year at Yale University and one of the researchers on the study, said,"The Internet is such a powerful environment, where you can enter any question, and you basically have access to the world's knowledge at your fingertips. It becomes easier to confuse your own knowledge with this external source." Fisher went on to say, " When people are truly on their own, they may be wildly inaccurate about how much they know and how dependent they are on the Internet."
Researchers set up a series of experiments and the participants proved this theory multiple times. People who searched for information regularly on the web truly believed they were more knowledgeable than they actually were. However, a control group, which was questioned about topics unrelated to web searches proved to be the opposite.
Perhaps the most surprising discovery of the study was that people who searched the Internet for information but were unable to find what they were looking for still seemed to have an inflated sense of their knowledge base. Those participants who were part of the control group did not seem to believe their brains were active, while those who took part in the online queries believed their brains were much more active than the other members.
It's believed that the increasing number of smartphone users may make this problem even worse going forward. Having the Internet at one's fingertips could definitely cause them to believe they know more than they do.
So, why is this a problem for society as a whole, other than the obvious reason that "know-it-all" friends are annoying? Fisher points out that in specific scenarios where misinformation could have a potentially disastrous effect on people involved, such as the political arena, and inflated sense of knowledge could lead to major problems.
"In cases where decisions have big consequences, it could be important for people to distinguish their own knowledge and not assume they know something when they actually don't. The Internet is an enormous benefit in countless ways, but there may be some tradeoffs that aren't immediately obvious and this may be one of them. Accurate personal knowledge is difficult to achieve, and the Internet may be making that task even harder."
So, before you're willing to give someone a piece of your mind, be sure it's actually a piece of YOUR mind, not something you read online.
The study was originally posted in the Journal of Experimental Psychology:General.