[How does the internet make you think you're smart?

The challenge: make the Internet very sure ? We cannot differentiate what it is are stored in our brain what's on the web?

Matthew Fisher, defend your research.

Matthew Fisher: We focused on the illusion of understanding that this giant electronic database can provide. Even when people did not get definitive results during their searches, they were confident that they would know the answers to the following questions.

HBR: What if those with access to the Internet already knew the answers to the following questions better?

Randomly assigning participants to the two groups solved this problem. Any potential differences, such as prior knowledge, were then randomly reassigned between the guinea pigs, so that the only difference between the two groups was whether or not they used the Internet to find the answers.

In a way, this seems obvious. If I know I can easily access a garage, I will be less afraid to drive my car for longer.

We make an essential distinction. We did not find that people believed they could find the answers more easily if they had access to the Internet. We found that they thought they knew the answers – that is, they already had the information – if they had access to the Internet. It's a bit like thinking you know how to fix a car when you can go to a garage.

How could you be sure these people thought they knew the information? Doesn't their confidence come more from having access to the internet?

In one experiment, we simply asked them how accurate they could be in their answers without the help of external tools. In another, instead of asking them about their confidence, we told them that those who gave the best answers would show more intense brain activity. Then, instead of asking them to rate their level of confidence, we showed them a series of brain scans depicting brain activity of varying intensity. They had to indicate what level they thought they were at. Everyone with access to the Internet systematically selected the images that showed the highest performance.

It's smart.

Yes, I think we invented this technique.

So what's really going on here?

Many studies have been done on “interactive memory partners”. Consider an elderly married couple, remembering their first meeting. Individually, neither of them remembers much, but when their memories are combined, they are able to recreate a memory richer than the fragments of their individual memories. Today, it appears that a machine can play the role of this “interactive memory partner.” You are, with access to the Internet, more efficient than yourself or the Internet alone. But we believe that performance comes only from us. In addition, searching the Internet requires almost no effort and is very easy to access. Thanks to the Internet, you'll never be faced with your ignorance again. And because we are so deeply dependent on it, we think of this connection to knowledge as innate knowledge. It becomes an appendix. We like to use the term 'cognitive augmentation'.

But is it really so terrible to have such an intention? It's like having a bionic hand. And the bionic arms are amazing!

But what happens when it stops working? Or when we can no longer access information? In some professions, people need to have strong skills and not have misconceptions. This is true for surgeons. Or, we should at least begin to structure our world so that such professionals can depend on this component without ever being cut off from it. Obviously, the Internet has advantages. We believe there is an inherent trade-off to learning about the world on our own and, at the same time, storing information somewhere other than our brain. The more we use the Internet, the harder it will be to measure how much people really know. And that includes self-assessment.

What reactions did your results cause?

They got a lot more response than I thought. There are so few places today without internet access that you really feel it when it happens. On an airplane or in a conversation where it would be impolite to pull out a cell phone, we encounter this obstacle. Suddenly you don't feel so smart anymore. But really, we never really were. we only thought that the information we could look up on the Internet was something we already knew.

So would the internet give us big heads? But we already knew that, right?

Psychologists have studied this “I knew it all along” phenomenon. When a credible person explains something to a layman, we often hear reactions like “That's obvious” or “Oh yeah, I knew that.” So psychologists have a trick to describe their results as the opposite of what they really are, and people react with “Yes, that's true – that makes sense.” I could have played this game and told you, “We discovered that people feel dumber when they use the Internet, that they know nothing compared to this vast resource. ” And you would have replied: “Obviously. »

Wait, how can I be sure that's not what you did? What is the real conclusion?

You have read the study.

What made you want to study this subject?

It was a good way – in the real world – to study what I'm most interested in: metacognitive awareness, or people's ability to assess how well they can explain what's around them. Emotional investment can give the illusion of knowledge. This often happens in politics: we end up believing we have a better handle on a subject than we do. Our study shows that when students have to measure their knowledge in different subjects, it is when they assess their level in their main subject that they make the most mistakes. When we're interested in a subject, we like to think we know a lot more about it than we actually do.

Anyway, when it comes to interviews, I know a lot more than most!

I'm sure that's really what you think.

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