UCLA researchers publish a study on the effects of the Internet on long-term memory

A recent UCLA study found that contemplating an answer to a question before Googling it can improve long-term memory and learning.

According to she studies, released on October 13, Internet users have become addicted to the Internet to retrieve information. The Internet’s ability to store so much information and make it easily accessible is both an advantage and a disadvantage, said Saskia Giebl, the study’s lead author and psychology doctoral candidate. She was motivated to find out how the internet and search engines could be used as tools for active learning, she said.

“The Internet isn’t going anywhere,” he said. “So how can we find ways or solutions to transform students into more sophisticated Internet users?”

Researchers asked UCLA students to take an online test consisting of trivia questions of varying difficulty, such as “Which sport uses the terms ‘Gutter’ and ‘Alley’?” Students were then asked to think about a potential answer for at least five seconds before browsing the internet or immediately Googling the answer. Participants then took a memory test on these questions.

When participants were given time to guess the answer before Googling, they performed better on memory tests than if they Googled the answers immediately, according to study co-author and psychology PhD candidate Stefany Mena. She said this is called the pre-test effect: testing before checking the answer results in better memory of the correct information.

Even guessing the wrong answer is better than not guessing at all, Giebl said.

“You’ll make mistakes, but this will actually help you with learning,” she said. “And I think it’s just good storytelling because, for so many years, we’ve been afraid to make mistakes.”

The researchers also investigated whether googling for an answer has the same effect as getting an answer, as in a traditional lecture. According to the study, participants were given a test of thinking before searching Google and a test in which they had to guess an answer before it was presented to them. Unexpectedly, the researchers found that participants performed better when they thought about an answer before Googling than when they thought about an answer before it was presented to them, Mena said.

Mena said the act of searching for information through the Internet can be a component of active learning.

“If you can interact more with the material, it will lead to better remembering,” she said. “Searching for the answer, having to type the question and having to go through the search results, … that sort of thing like that could lead to better learning.”

Kia Hines, a fourth-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student, said that when the pandemic moved schools to online formats, it was easy to become addicted to the internet. But when her instructors encouraged pretense behaviors like giving students a moment to think about an answer after asking a question, she helped Hines become more dependent on herself, she added.

“It allows us to think about our response and review the material in our head. We kind of go on autopilot if we think we’re already going to get the answer in the next five seconds,” she said.

After hearing the results of this study, Hines said she has become more aware of her learning habits and encourages students to keep up to date with research applicable to our daily lives.

Because the internet is still relatively young, its impact on our learning is a new area of ​​research to explore, Mena said. Researchers are now trying to create engaging tools that students can use to encourage more self-testing behaviors, Giebl said. Giebl added that she hopes students can enjoy the challenge of learning and not become too addicted to the Internet to do it for them.

“If other devices are doing all the thinking and all the storage, then what are you left with?” she said.