Do you ever feel like you are living in a rabbit hole? The same recycled news, phone tapping, phone tapping, phone tapping. The internet is making you stupid. Blah. Blah. Blah?
Once again a controversial academic paper is claiming that the internet is damaging our ability to recall, or at least changing the way we think. This time it has appeared in the journal Science titled “Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips” (£). We’ve discussed previously the vast ammounts of unfounded conjecture surrounding this topic but until now there has been little (if any) published research that comes close to shedding any light on the issue. Somewhat unsurprisingly the paper is being taken very seriously, however on closer inspection it presents a far from watertight case. As Buldric might say, this case is in fact so leaky a marauding lascivious nun wouldn’t use it to surreptitiously store her illicit liquor stash. Darling.
The paper uses an interesting (ahem) technique of measuring how much participants are thinking of computers when asked to recall information. The method called the “stroop test” is traditionally used as a texbook measure of attention.
In the experiment 106 Harvard graduates were given trivia questions. After this happened, coloured words either relating to computers or not relating to computers popped up and participants would have to say the colour of the word. This is the crucial bit. The logic that the “findings” that “Google effects memory” depend on, is based on the presumption that if the Harvard grads were already thinking of googling the answer then this would delay their response upon seeing the word “Google” (or “Yahoo”) in a stroop test. Now, as always, I hate to throw a spanner in the works of a watertight hypothesis but there does seem to be a slight confounding variable in the fact that the Google logo is erm, multi-*******-coloured.
I’m always struck by the leap of faith that goes in to reaching conclusions in studies such as this but this time it just seems plain ridiculous. The researchers claim that:
“People who have been disposed to think about a certain topic [i.e. internet search providers] typically show slowed reaction times (RTs) for naming the color of the word when the word itself is of interest and is more accessible, because the word captures attention and interferes with the fastest possible color naming.”
One of the things I tend to find a bit odd is that such tiny results can be used to reach such sweeping conclusions, in this study the difference in reaction time between the “computer terms” and the “general terms” was a fraction of a second…
Never mind the monster of a confounding variable that the Google logo is famously multi-[deep breaths now]-coloured but surely there are positively dozens of other factors at work such as that the terms “Google” and “Yahoo” are likely to ellicit far more complex ideas and memories than the control words “Nike” and “Target”. I mean come on, the mere words “Nike” and “Target” are unlikely to excite even the most hard core sportswear fans let alone a bunch of Harvard graduates.
Come to think of it I’m pretty sure there are plently of Harvard graduates that would have loved nothing more than to have been the ones to come up with the code underlying Google (Yahoo, not so much).
I rest my.. case.
Sparrow, B. Liu, J. & Wegner , D. (2011) Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips. ScienceFollow Simon on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, RSS, or join the mailing list.
NB: I’m unable to verify the mathematical claims made in this piece but research is ongoing and according to Jason, is due to be published shortly. Watch this space.
Jason Padgett is currently purported to be the only person in the world who can accurately draw fractals by hand which are mathematically correct. You are probably familiar with computer generated fractals such as the interactive one below but creating them by hand is a different task entirely.
A number of years ago Jason received a brain injury from a severe blow to the back of the head in a mugging. As a direct result of this Jason acquired a form of synaesthesia in which fractals can be seen in every part of the world. What is astounding about Jason is that he claims to be able to apply this insight to his number sense and draw mathematical phenomena in a completely unique way.
Jason has very kindly given permission for me to reproduce some of his works below. The drawings are without doubt strangely compelling. I should note here that I’m not a mathematician and seeing as there is absurdly little debate of Jason’s work on-line I’d advise you to take this with a “pinch of salt”. I’d be fascinated to see some academic debate on the theory behind the concepts presented here.
All images remain copyrighted (©JasonPadgett, 2011). Copies of his work are available from fineartamerica.com.
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OK, I’m not a big magazine fan myself, tend to be turned off by the obscene amount of adverts as well as the growing trend for the rather clandestine pushing of labels inside journalistic pieces. I recently stumbled across this little gem, hidden on the bottom label of a US outlet. “Adbusters” has come up with the ingenious idea of using “subvertisements” such as this one.
The magazine is mainly art/politics based, though it covers some very thought provoking material related to psychology. Theres some taster content here . If that sparks your fancy here is the feed Definitely to be taken with a bucket of salt.Follow Simon on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, RSS, or join the mailing list.
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