This is your brain on Google
Research shows doing online searches can actually increase the level of activity in your brain.
This story is adapted from a broadcast audio segment; use audio player to listen to story in its entirety.
Online searches can actually give our brains a workout.
Dr. Gary Small, author of "iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind," says people's brains are very active when they're doing online searches.
"By word of mouth we found about a dozen people who had never searched online, and we found that their brains were not as active as those who searched online," he said. "But the good news is, after just a week of online searching, there was incredible increase in activity in the front part of the brain, the thinking brain, the decision-making brain, and short-term memory brain."
A few weeks ago, Roz Chast, esteemed "New Yorker" cartoonist, created a cartoon that depicted an imaginary "Google Magazine," with story titles like "Capitol Nebraska What" and "Parakeet Molasses Safe."
Chast says she came up with her cartoon because Google has become a regular part of her life. "It's kind of fun to look stuff up on Google. Sometimes I just put words together at random and see what comes up. It's amazing because something almost always does come up."
Dr. Small says once our brains figure out a strategy on how to search, it becomes routine and there is less activity as our brains become more efficient. He cautions that just because there's activity in our brains, it doesn't mean we're getting smarter.
"In a way, we're developing a staccato quality of thought, where we jump from idea to idea, just the way we jump from web site to web site," said Small.
While she enjoys her forays into searches, Chast doubts they make us smarter. "I think eventually, we're not going to have to remember anything," she said.
But Small doesn't think it's all that bad. "We're all developing external hard drives as accessories to our biological brains," he said. "So yes, in the future we may be Googling outside our brains, but how is that different from what goes on now? If we want to search our memory stores, we kind of do an internal Google to find the information. All this is going to do is really accelerate our brain power."
"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.