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?Is Google making us Stupid Google is Destroying Your Memory. Sorry WHAT?

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.

Leaky Darrrrling Google is Destroying Your Memory. Sorry WHAT?

Darling's Leaky Case

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.

stroop Google is Destroying Your Memory. Sorry WHAT?

Why is this pattern familiar? Are you thinking what I'm thinking..?

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.

Google Google is Destroying Your Memory. Sorry WHAT?


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…

Google memory Google is Destroying Your Memory. Sorry WHAT?

Difference in reaction times on Stroop task after hearing each word

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.

Nike Jokers Google is Destroying Your Memory. Sorry WHAT?

Hardcore Sportswear Fans

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).

google party1 Google is Destroying Your Memory. Sorry WHAT?I rest my.. case.

rb2 large gray Google is Destroying Your Memory. Sorry WHAT?

Sparrow, B. Liu, J. & Wegner , D. (2011) Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips. Science

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Henry Marsh An English Neurosurgeon in the UkraineA harrowing and inspiring account of neurosurgeon Henry Marsh and his battle against bureaucracy and political opposition to bring modern neurological techniques to the Ukraine. The BBC film is now available worldwide in TV definition, run time a hefty 1hr 28mins.

Via @Mocost

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counselling wonderland 610 An Elegant Take on CounsellingI’ve always found it quite difficult to explain (if not understand) exactly what counselling is. We can all agree it’s talking but about what and in what way is a complicated topic worthy of debate. I was struck how a cartoon by the BBC managed to subtly yet deeply, bluntly yet sharply, tenderly yet acutely; shed some light on this so misunderstood profession in a heartbeat. (OK, in 49 Minutes and 8 seconds to be precise). Without wanting to just emit gushing compliments any further I’ll end this review here.

therapist1 An Elegant Take on Counselling

A slightly neuvo-freudian looking therapist

“What the hell are you thinking? Where exactly is the statutory neurobonkers pinch of salt needed?” I hear you ask. Well in fairness, at the 30 minute mark it does begin to feel slightly like an hour long “Relate” advert. That however is hopefully a tremendously good thing considering relate is a charity and not a conglomerate. I should probably add however that I do find it just a tad eery that that the Wikipedia page is only 9 lines long, which seems stupendously short even when compared with, for example the length of the page for “toilet paper orientation“. (Okay perhaps that is a slightly unfair comparison, perhaps not, I don’t know). That pessimism is hopefully just a reactionary throw back to my catholic-school-upbringing-infused (insert-non-libel-inducing-word-hear) of the term “clergyman” in the wikepida page. As I said before I enjoyed the programme a great deal and found it educational but I’ll still continue watching this series with the metaphorical bucket of salt close at hand. On this day however the angel on my shoulder wins and the devil’s advocate lives to fight another day – the cartoon is nothing short of an elegant and articulate dip of the toe in to a mind bogglingly cavernous area.  (OK I couldn’t help it, the devil is back in the room..) That said I guess that is what a mad person would call indoctrination or a religious person would call a sunday afternoon. I hope noone of that actually offended anyone, it certainly wasn’t meant to, the film is beautiful and I recommend it. I’m off to watch a bit more of “wonderland” (how have I never heard of this programme before?) you can expect a follow up review shortly!

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A study recently published in the The Journal of Consumer Research has demonstrated that people genuinely believe they have autobiographical memories that they whole heartedly believe are real but which are in fact mere memories of adverts.

coke vietnam Study Demonstrates False Memories Implanted Via AdvertisingImage by Canned Revolutions

In the experiment a 100 undergrads were introduced to a made-up pop-corn brand range called “Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Fresh Microwave Popcorn” which a significant proportion of the the group was convinced by the expermenters that they both knew and enjoyed the taste of with just a few adverts.

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Dice Optical Illusion The Baader Meinhof PhenomenonThis post has been on the to-do-list for a while but it was my last post that made me decide to do this one now. If you don’t know what the “Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon” is play the video on my last post and (if you live in the UK) it should give you a hint. If you have heard of the “Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon” before you may just be experiencing it for the first time right now. If not, you’ll no doubt be hearing of it again very soon.

If you hadn’t guessed yet, the phenomenon is pretty close to the idea of “deja-vous”, it is the weird feeling we get that every time we learn a new word or phenomenon and sooner than seems natural we start hearing about it all around us. It’s caused by the intrinsic nature of our brains to make relationships between separate events and to ignore what we don’t understand. This is similar to the phenomenon of selective attention, or the “cocktail party effect”, the puzzle of why we can hear next to nothing from a blur of conversation going on in a “cocktail party” but we catch the word every time if our own name is said.

Only last week I heard the word “Brouhaha” for the first time (that I can distinctly remember anyway) and within a week it was back again. It could be a new “trend” but judgeing by the google hits for the word and the definitions pages online (and the age of the people saying it) its been around for quite some time. I first heard of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon when skimming the Reddit responses to an old article of mine (it’s a hilarious thread, I must admit and I would recommend you check it out if you literally have nothing better to do and are in need of a giggle)… I thought it was quite a good example of the “BMP”. If you’d like a proper explanation, partly because it’s so nicely written and partly because I’m feeling a little on the lazy side today I’d recommend this “Damninteresting” explanation of the phenomenon.

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