Almost every bit of human knowledge is on the internet - for many, it's an invaluable extension to our brains. But how would we cope if it suddenly went away? Pretty badly, according to the American Psychological Association.
A recent study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, found that we tend to overrate the extent of our own knowledge when we have access to the internet, and underrate how much it supports that knowledge. In short, we confuse our own knowledge with knowledge we have access to.
A team of psychologists asked people to rate their ability to explain the answers to common questions like "how does a zip work" after either searching the internet to confirm their explanation or being specifically instructed not to use it. In some cases the participants were given a specific site to search through.
They found that people who were allowed to search the web rated their personal knowledge much higher than those who weren't, even when the people without a net connection were given text with the correct answer taken from the same site that people were instructed to search through.
The process of searching the internet, it seems, inflates our sense of the knowledge we actually possess.
"We show that searching the internet for explanatory knowledge creates an illusion whereby people mistake access to information for their own personal understanding of the information," the study's authors wrote. "Evidence from nine experiments shows that searching for information online leads to an increase in self-assessed knowledge as people mistakenly think they have more knowledge 'in the head'."