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. 

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.

Connected Business Concepts

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.
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.
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.
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.
The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman since 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.
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.
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 – 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Moonshot thinking is an approach to innovation, and it can be applied to business or any other discipline where you target at least 10X goals. That shifts the mindset, and it empowers a team of people to look for unconventional solutions, thus starting from first principles, by leveraging on fast-paced experimentation.
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.
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 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.
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.
The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.
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.

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

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Gennaro Cuofano

Gennaro is the creator of FourWeekMBA which reached over a million business students, executives, and aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020 alone | He is also Head of Business Development for a high-tech startup, which he helped grow at double-digit rate | Gennaro earned an International MBA with emphasis on Corporate Finance and Business Strategy | Visit The FourWeekMBA BizSchool | Or Get The FourWeekMBA Flagship Book "100+ Business Models"