Google Effect In A Nutshell

The Google effect is a tendency for individuals to forget information that is readily available through search engines. During the Google effect – sometimes called digital amnesia – individuals have an excessive reliance on digital information as a form of memory recall. 

DefinitionThe Google Effect, also known as digital or internet amnesia, is a cognitive phenomenon characterized by the tendency to forget information that can be easily accessed online using search engines like Google. It arises from the widespread reliance on the internet and search engines for information retrieval. When individuals know that they can quickly look up facts, data, or knowledge online, they are less inclined to commit such information to their long-term memory. This effect highlights the changing relationship between human memory and technology. While the internet offers unprecedented access to information, it also influences how individuals remember, learn, and retain knowledge. The Google Effect has implications for education, information retention, and the way people process and recall information in the digital age.
Key ConceptsDigital Information Retrieval: The central concept is the ease of accessing information digitally through search engines. – Memory and Technology: The changing dynamics between human memory and technology. – Online Dependence: The extent to which individuals rely on the internet for immediate information needs. – Cognitive Impact: The effect on cognitive processes like memory encoding and retention. – Selective Memorization: People tend to memorize information that is less readily available online.
CharacteristicsSelective Memory: Individuals selectively remember information that is not easily accessible online. – Reduced Memorization: There is reduced motivation to memorize facts or data available through online searches. – Convenience Bias: A preference for looking up information online for convenience rather than relying on memory. – Impact on Recall: It can affect an individual’s ability to recall information when internet access is limited. – Education Implications: The Google Effect has implications for education and how information is taught and learned.
ImplicationsMemory Adaptation: The Google Effect represents an adaptation of memory to the digital age. – Selective Knowledge: People may possess selective knowledge, remembering information gaps rather than specifics. – Education Changes: It necessitates changes in educational strategies to promote deeper understanding and critical thinking rather than rote memorization. – Risk of Dependency: Overreliance on the internet for information can lead to dependency and a lack of critical thinking skills. – Offline Limitations: Limited access to the internet may pose challenges for individuals accustomed to instant information retrieval.
AdvantagesEfficiency: The Google Effect allows for quick access to vast amounts of information. – Reduced Memorization Burden: People do not need to memorize vast volumes of data, freeing cognitive resources. – Global Knowledge Access: It facilitates global access to knowledge and information. – Convenience: Easy access to information enhances convenience in daily life and work. – Focus on Understanding: Encourages a shift from memorization to understanding and critical thinking.
DrawbacksSelective Memory: The downside is a selective memory that may omit important details or facts. – Dependency: Overreliance on online information can lead to dependency and a lack of self-sufficiency. – Incomplete Knowledge: Individuals may have gaps in their knowledge due to relying solely on online sources. – Inaccurate Information: Online sources are not always accurate, leading to potential misinformation. – Reduced Cognitive Skills: A decline in critical thinking and problem-solving skills if individuals primarily rely on internet searches for answers.
ApplicationsEducation: The Google Effect impacts how educators teach and students learn, emphasizing the need for critical thinking and deeper understanding rather than rote memorization. – Professional Life: In various professions, quick access to online information is essential, but it requires the ability to evaluate and apply information effectively. – Everyday Life: Daily tasks, from recipes to travel directions, rely on internet searches, influencing daily decision-making. – Memory Research: Researchers study the effects of technology on memory and cognitive processes. – Digital Literacy: Understanding and managing the Google Effect is essential for digital literacy and information literacy.
Use CasesAcademic Research: A student working on a research paper relies heavily on online sources and does not memorize specific facts, focusing on critical analysis instead. – Medical Diagnosis: A medical professional uses online databases and resources for diagnosing rare conditions rather than committing all medical knowledge to memory. – Cooking Recipes: A home cook frequently looks up recipes online rather than memorizing them. – Travel Directions: Travelers use navigation apps for directions rather than memorizing routes. – Job Training: Employees in various fields access online resources and training modules for job-related information rather than memorizing all procedures and guidelines.

Digital Amnesia And Google Effect

The effect is attributed to the advent of the internet and search engines, with the latter using sophisticated algorithms to deliver accurate and instantaneous information to users. 

Cell phones have also played an important role. With ready access to hundreds or even thousands of cell phone numbers, there is less need to commit them to memory. The popularity of photo and video sharing platforms has also been significant. Users of platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat are intentionally using still and moving images as a substitute for actual memories.

Essentially, the Google effect is a cognitive bias. 

This bias suggests that people are better at remembering where to access stored information (and how to retrieve it) than they are remembering the information itself. This is because the human brain does not prioritize the storing of information that it can easily access later.

Implications of the Google effect

The Google effect has several negative implications for individuals and the wider society. Some of these include:

  • Shallow and superficial engagement with the world. While information is readily available, it is not being committed to memory and used in everyday contexts. Shortening attention spans are further reducing the amount of information that can be memorized and applied to real-world situations.
  • Low-quality information. Search engines store vast amounts of information, but much of it is low quality. Those who rely on this information to make decisions often lack critical thinking skills and intelligence.
  • Poor mental health. Several studies have linked an increasing dependency on digital information with anxiety, poor cognitive task performance, and a lack of social skills.
  • Access vulnerability. Information stored online is always vulnerable to cyberattacks, power outages, and hard drive failure. All have the potential to restrict access to information or in some cases, erase it. 

Potential benefits of the Google effect

In a study by Yale University, students who were able to cross-reference their knowledge on a certain topic with Google were shown to have more confidence. As a key driver of educational success, confidence derived from the Google effect was seen to be crucial.

Further studies have shown that students were better able to locate peer-reviewed references for use in assignments. Although retention was lacking, knowing where to find and then synthesize reputable information may encourage memorization and critical thinking skills.

Key takeaways

  • The Google effect is a psychological phenomenon that describes the individual tendency to forget information available online.
  • The Google effect has several negative implications for individuals. Chief among them are somewhat disengaged and uninformed interactions with the world. Mental health may also suffer as reliance on digital information increases. 
  • The Google effect does some limited benefits. Studies have shown that the easy retrieval of peer-reviewed research encourages university students to think critically and commit more information to memory.

Key Highlights about the Google Effect:

  • Definition: The Google effect, also known as digital amnesia, is a cognitive bias wherein individuals forget information that is readily available through search engines and the internet. This effect arises due to excessive reliance on digital information for memory recall.
  • Causes: The advent of the internet and search engines, along with the widespread use of cell phones and photo/video sharing platforms, has contributed to the Google effect. People prioritize remembering how to access information rather than the information itself.
  • Implications:
    • Shallow Engagement: Individuals engage superficially with information since they rely on easy access rather than committing it to memory.
    • Low-Quality Information: Overreliance on search engines can lead to a lack of critical thinking and decision-making skills.
    • Poor Mental Health: Increased dependence on digital information is linked to anxiety, poor cognitive performance, and reduced social skills.
    • Access Vulnerability: Relying solely on online information makes it susceptible to cyberattacks, outages, and data loss.
  • Potential Benefits:
    • Educational Confidence: A Yale University study found that students who cross-referenced their knowledge with Google had increased confidence in their understanding, contributing to educational success.
    • Critical Thinking: Students were better able to locate reputable references for assignments, encouraging critical thinking and better information synthesis.
  • Key Takeaways:
    • The Google effect describes the tendency to forget information available online due to overreliance on digital sources.
    • Negative implications include disengagement with information, potential for poor mental health, and reliance on low-quality data.
    • Positive aspects include increased confidence and improved critical thinking skills in education.

Connected Thinking Frameworks

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. Whereas divergent thinking is an unstructured problem-solving method where participants are encouraged to develop many innovative ideas or solutions to a given problem. Where convergent thinking might work for larger, mature organizations where divergent thinking is more suited for startups and innovative companies.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking involves analyzing observations, facts, evidence, and arguments to form a judgment about what someone reads, hears, says, or writes.


The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Bounded Rationality

Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Lindy Effect

The Lindy Effect is a theory about the ageing of non-perishable things, like technology or ideas. Popularized by author Nicholas Nassim Taleb, the Lindy Effect states that non-perishable things like technology age – linearly – in reverse. Therefore, the older an idea or a technology, the same will be its life expectancy.


Antifragility was first coined as a term by author, and options trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Antifragility is a characteristic of systems that thrive as a result of stressors, volatility, and randomness. Therefore, Antifragile is the opposite of fragile. Where a fragile thing breaks up to volatility; a robust thing resists volatility. An antifragile thing gets stronger from volatility (provided the level of stressors and randomness doesn’t pass a certain threshold).

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a holistic means of investigating the factors and interactions that could contribute to a potential outcome. It is about thinking non-linearly, and understanding the second-order consequences of actions and input into the system.

Vertical Thinking

Vertical thinking, on the other hand, is a problem-solving approach that favors a selective, analytical, structured, and sequential mindset. The focus of vertical thinking is to arrive at a reasoned, defined solution.

Maslow’s Hammer

Maslow’s Hammer, otherwise known as the law of the instrument or the Einstellung effect, is a cognitive bias causing an over-reliance on a familiar tool. This can be expressed as the tendency to overuse a known tool (perhaps a hammer) to solve issues that might require a different tool. This problem is persistent in the business world where perhaps known tools or frameworks might be used in the wrong context (like business plans used as planning tools instead of only investors’ pitches).

Peter Principle

The Peter Principle was first described by Canadian sociologist Lawrence J. Peter in his 1969 book The Peter Principle. The Peter Principle states that people are continually promoted within an organization until they reach their level of incompetence.

Straw Man Fallacy

The straw man fallacy describes an argument that misrepresents an opponent’s stance to make rebuttal more convenient. The straw man fallacy is a type of informal logical fallacy, defined as a flaw in the structure of an argument that renders it invalid.

Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect is a paradoxical phenomenon where the act of suppressing information to reduce visibility causes it to become more visible. In 2003, Streisand attempted to suppress aerial photographs of her Californian home by suing photographer Kenneth Adelman for an invasion of privacy. Adelman, who Streisand assumed was paparazzi, was instead taking photographs to document and study coastal erosion. In her quest for more privacy, Streisand’s efforts had the opposite effect.


As highlighted by German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer in the paper “Heuristic Decision Making,” the term heuristic is of Greek origin, meaning “serving to find out or discover.” More precisely, a heuristic is a fast and accurate way to make decisions in the real world, which is driven by uncertainty.

Recognition Heuristic

The recognition heuristic is a psychological model of judgment and decision making. It is part of a suite of simple and economical heuristics proposed by psychologists Daniel Goldstein and Gerd Gigerenzer. The recognition heuristic argues that inferences are made about an object based on whether it is recognized or not.

Representativeness Heuristic

The representativeness heuristic was first described by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The representativeness heuristic judges the probability of an event according to the degree to which that event resembles a broader class. When queried, most will choose the first option because the description of John matches the stereotype we may hold for an archaeologist.

Take-The-Best Heuristic

The take-the-best heuristic is a decision-making shortcut that helps an individual choose between several alternatives. The take-the-best (TTB) heuristic decides between two or more alternatives based on a single good attribute, otherwise known as a cue. In the process, less desirable attributes are ignored.

Bundling Bias

The bundling bias is a cognitive bias in e-commerce where a consumer tends not to use all of the products bought as a group, or bundle. Bundling occurs when individual products or services are sold together as a bundle. Common examples are tickets and experiences. The bundling bias dictates that consumers are less likely to use each item in the bundle. This means that the value of the bundle and indeed the value of each item in the bundle is decreased.

Barnum Effect

The Barnum Effect is a cognitive bias where individuals believe that generic information – which applies to most people – is specifically tailored for themselves.

First-Principles Thinking

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Ladder Of Inference

The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Goodhart’s Law

Goodhart’s Law is named after British monetary policy theorist and economist Charles Goodhart. Speaking at a conference in Sydney in 1975, Goodhart said that “any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.” Goodhart’s Law states that when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Six Thinking Hats Model

The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Mandela Effect

The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

Moore’s Law

Moore’s law states that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles approximately every two years. This observation was made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 and it become a guiding principle for the semiconductor industry and has had far-reaching implications for technology as a whole.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation as a term was first described by Clayton M. Christensen, an American academic and business consultant whom The Economist called “the most influential management thinker of his time.” Disruptive innovation describes the process by which a product or service takes hold at the bottom of a market and eventually displaces established competitors, products, firms, or alliances.

Value Migration

Value migration was first described by author Adrian Slywotzky in his 1996 book Value Migration – How to Think Several Moves Ahead of the Competition. Value migration is the transferal of value-creating forces from outdated business models to something better able to satisfy consumer demands.

Bye-Now Effect

The bye-now effect describes the tendency for consumers to think of the word “buy” when they read the word “bye”. In a study that tracked diners at a name-your-own-price restaurant, each diner was asked to read one of two phrases before ordering their meal. The first phrase, “so long”, resulted in diners paying an average of $32 per meal. But when diners recited the phrase “bye bye” before ordering, the average price per meal rose to $45.


Groupthink occurs when well-intentioned individuals make non-optimal or irrational decisions based on a belief that dissent is impossible or on a motivation to conform. Groupthink occurs when members of a group reach a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the alternatives and their consequences.


A stereotype is a fixed and over-generalized belief about a particular group or class of people. These beliefs are based on the false assumption that certain characteristics are common to every individual residing in that group. Many stereotypes have a long and sometimes controversial history and are a direct consequence of various political, social, or economic events. Stereotyping is the process of making assumptions about a person or group of people based on various attributes, including gender, race, religion, or physical traits.

Murphy’s Law

Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Murphy’s Law was named after aerospace engineer Edward A. Murphy. During his time working at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949, Murphy cursed a technician who had improperly wired an electrical component and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.”

Law of Unintended Consequences

The law of unintended consequences was first mentioned by British philosopher John Locke when writing to parliament about the unintended effects of interest rate rises. However, it was popularized in 1936 by American sociologist Robert K. Merton who looked at unexpected, unanticipated, and unintended consequences and their impact on society.

Fundamental Attribution Error

Fundamental attribution error is a bias people display when judging the behavior of others. The tendency is to over-emphasize personal characteristics and under-emphasize environmental and situational factors.

Outcome Bias

Outcome bias describes a tendency to evaluate a decision based on its outcome and not on the process by which the decision was reached. In other words, the quality of a decision is only determined once the outcome is known. Outcome bias occurs when a decision is based on the outcome of previous events without regard for how those events developed.

Hindsight Bias

Hindsight bias is the tendency for people to perceive past events as more predictable than they actually were. The result of a presidential election, for example, seems more obvious when the winner is announced. The same can also be said for the avid sports fan who predicted the correct outcome of a match regardless of whether their team won or lost. Hindsight bias, therefore, is the tendency for an individual to convince themselves that they accurately predicted an event before it happened.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger EffectLindy EffectCrowding Out EffectBandwagon Effect.

Main Guides:

About The Author

Scroll to Top