The Impacts of the Google Effect on Brain Activity in Adolescents versus Adults

Author(s): Eileen Nolan

Mentor(s): Melanie Fedri, Honors College

Abstract

The Google effect is described by an individual’s action of remembering where information can be found instead of remembering the information itself. There is minimal research on how the Google effect impacts the developing brain in adolescents. Research in this area is important as the adolescent brain is only fully developed at the age of 25, yet they are exposed to technology at a young age. The research question aims to explore how the Google effect impacts areas of the brain differently in adolescents versus adults in the Washington metropolitan area. An experimental method that will target this research question will include tasks for adolescents and adults related to the Google effect. Analysis of the experiment will be based on fMRI’s of the brains between both groups and statistical differences in survey responses. As we develop new technology, we must also realize and explore how it is affecting our lives, how we act, and the way we develop. This research project aims to discover these potential impacts of internet usage and the Google effect by comparing adolescent and adult behaviors.

Video Transcript

Hi everyone, for my project I explored the Google effect and its association with brain development in adolescents versus adults. 

One example of the Google Effect is our reliance on GPSs where park rangers coined the term ‘Death by GPS’ because they observed drivers blindly relying on their GPS even when it directed them into the ocean, over cliffs, or across deserted desert trails. With all the surrounding technology, many don’t memorize the way to their destination beforehand, because they assume they will have access to the directions and maps in the future. By doing this, we stop listening to our own instincts. The reason why we don’t memorize maps and directions with a GPS or phone is exactly what the Google effect is. 

The Google effect is the action of remembering where information can be found instead of remembering the information itself. There has been some research on the impacts of the Google effect on the brain and behavior in adults, but hardly any on adolescents when their brain is still developing. The adolescent brain is only fully developed at the age of 25, so how does the continued dependence on technology change the way they develop? 

This leads me to my research question which will explore how the Google effect impacts areas of the brain differently in adolescents versus adults in the Washington metropolitan area. I chose to specify my research question around the Washington metropolitan area due to the high internet usage and access among adolescents and adults.  

The concept of transactive memory is vital in the understanding of the Google effect. It describes how individuals use their internal and external memory to remember information and access knowledge. In simpler terms, we rely on other people or objects for information that we don’t need to memorize because we know that when we need it we can refer to those people that do know it. Now in order to rely on other people or other sources such as files and notebooks, we create labels in our head, so we remember the location and general idea of knowledge. Recently, technology has become our primary source of transactive memory. We no longer need to assign labels because the internet behaves as a single entity. Therefore, we lose control of the organizational structure of where knowledge is located. 

But isn’t it a good thing that we can remember less? Yes and no. Some experts do say that the internet can be used as a benefit as it frees up space in our memory for other tasks, but as we use it more, and rely less on ourselves, it leads to the cycle of internet addiction. As the cycle continues, we lose control of assigning labels to external resources ourselves and rely fully on technology. Studies have shown that different areas of the brain are used when searching on the internet versus paper encyclopedias. The internet search groups had brain activation in areas that contribute to emotion regulation and drug cravings in addictions. 

The impacts of the Google effect on adolescents need to be researched in the future. We have limited time to compare the Google generations to generations that grew up with no internet. This is why my research question aims to discover how the Google effect impacts the areas of the brain differently in adolescents versus adults. 

A method that will target this research question will include two main groups: adolescents and adults. These groups will perform the same tasks related to the Google effect, by typing trivia statements into a computer with small twists, such as getting the pop-up, “your entry has been saved to folder X” or “your entry has been erased”. Then the participants will be asked to determine the accuracy of altered trivia questions during fMRI scans, which is a process where their brain activity will be scanned. In the end, participants will be asked to record their feelings about accuracy, confidence, and impulses to review the trivia statements they typed. 

Now the internet has only been around since 1993, so much information can change. There may be many new ideas, ideas that contradict beliefs now, and this is exactly why we need continued research in this area. As we develop new technology, I believe we must also realize and explore how it is affecting our lives, how we act, and the way that we develop. 

Thank you.

2 replies on “The Impacts of the Google Effect on Brain Activity in Adolescents versus Adults”

Great work, Eileen! Your presentation was engaging and clear, along with the imperative to conduct this research now, given that we live in a historic moment in time with some generations that did not grow up with the internet and some that have. If you are able to pursue this research, I would love to hear what you find out! Best wishes, Dr. Fedri

Great presentation! Your explanations, examples, and graphics so clearly illustrate the importance of you research. It sounds really interesting and forced me to think about my own dependence on the internet! I’m excited to hear about any future directions for this project.

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